Archive for May 26th, 2012

By Bob Clark

Though it’s been more and more infrequent in the past fifteen years or more, there used to be a fairly common occurrence of half-hour animated specials produced from American comic-strips, usually centering around some kind of holiday-related special occasion, the gold standard being the classic Charlie Brown Christmas. Those and other Peanuts specials from creator Charles Schulz and director Bill Melendez managed to translate the peculiar mannerisms of the cartoonist’s celebrated comic-strip so successfully into animation that for decades they managed to serve as the first introduction many children had to characters like Snoopy, Linus and the like. It helped having actual kids supply the voices for the young characters, of course (with Melendez himself providing grunts and howls rich in personality for Snoopy), and especially the accompaniment of Vince Guaraldi’s now standard jazz compositions. But as permanent as that special, the ones that succeeded it, and even the features and series that followed in their wake all marked themselves into the consciousness of whole generations’ worth of children, the animated form of Peanuts never quite outstepped the influence of the original home Schulz found on the comics page, where his work served as an inspiration to countless cartoonists and artists of every stripe (even Godard called him one of the best writers in America) until his death in early 2000.

The same can’t quite be said for some of the other comic-strips to have succeeded in animated form. Some easily outpaced their comics-page counterparts, only serving to remind just how superficial some of those comics were to begin with– the various Garfield cartoons came to life on television in a way that Jim Davis’ strip never approaches thanks to the addition of Lou Rawl’s music and most especially the charmingly deadpan voice of the late Lorenzo Music, such to the point that not even Bill Murray himself could follow in those horrible live-action movies. Aaron McGrudder’s anime-influenced Boondocks series has long-since outpaced the original strip that sired it, at least in terms of his own involvement. Others managed to remain true to their printed sources, but never really reach people on the same level of impact– Berke Breathed’s Bloom County made an honestly charming special centered around Opus the Penguin in A Wish for Wings That Work, but it’s strictly for die-hard fans of the strip, and Lynn Johnston’s For Better or For Worse translated well enough into an animated version that’s sure to please anybody who still remembers the long-running Canadian strip even exists. Plenty of high profile strips have never been turned into animated forms of any kind (Bill Waterson would turn in his grave before he was even buried should Calvin and Hobbes be licensed in any way), and plenty more have been brought to television with so little fanfare it’s a wonder anybody knows about them at all (remember Tales From the Far Side? Or that Dilbert series with Daniel Stern and Kathy Griffin? I didn’t think so).


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