Animation Trails
June 29, 2022 posted by Charles Gardner

Flights of Fancy (Part 28): Learning Wright from Wrong

Our instruments are beginning to give indication that we are nearing our final destination. In no particular order, we’ll attempt to wrap up remaining contributors to television aviation over the next few weeks, then finally move on to new trails, after this longest subject excursion in the history of this column.

Jay Ward studios would cover just about any subject at some time or another in its storylines, and made periodic use of planes in some of its Rocky and Bullwinkle arcs, mostly as incidental means of transportation. Ward’s planes were sometimes designed in strange and artistically-distorted fashion, with fuselages so wide and bloated, they often looked more like dirigibles with portholes. A slightly-more traditional one, in the form of a battered Ford Tri-Motor, appears in the series’ first story arc, Rocket Fuel Formula, where Boris Badenov poses as pilot Ace Rickenboris. Our heroes need to get back to Frostbite Falls for an ingredient to Bullwinkle’s secret rocket fuel formula recipe – but no commercial carrier offers service to such a remote location. A flight charterer quotes them a price of $1,000, causing Bullwinkle to respond, “You could buy the place for $8.00 cash.” Boris appears, to undercut the charter price to 85 cents (the total cash Rocky is carrying), with the usual intent to do moose and squirrel in. Boris’s business card reads, “Fly now, pray later”, which Boris covers for as merely “a misprint.” Natasha, as stewardess, straps the boys into their seat belts – one-way belts that lock into place to keep them in their seats. Then Boris, after takeoff, destroys the instruments on the control panel and has Natasha jettison all but two parachutes. Natasha bails out with one, and Boris is about to follow (“I hate to leave a place that holds such pleasant memories”), when a call comes over the radio from Fearless Leader, not to kill moose and squirrel. “Make up your mind”, grumbles Boris. Releasing the boys from their seat belts, Boris hears all three engines conk out, and announces they will be landing soon – so bail out. Rocky can glide down, but in order to keep the moose safe, Boris must provide him with the sole remaining parachute – and goes down with the ship himself. “Oooh, Boris, why didn’t you become violinist like Mama wanted?”, he moans. He is only saved when the plane is speared through its belly by the trunk of a tall forest tree. “We always land this way”, he calls down to our heroes – “It saves wear and tear on the wheels.”

Once in a while, more modern-looking jet aircraft would appear, as in the final chapter of the story arc, Maybe Dick, the Wailing Whale, Rocky and Bullwinkle have succeeded in locating and removing Boris and Natasha from a huge mechanical craft made to look like a giant whale, which Boris has been using to disrupt shipping. Our heroes are attempting to sail back their prize of battle to England, when they are spotted from above by a squadron of British fighter planes. Not realizing the craft is not a real whale, nor under the control of the bad guys, the Britishers prepare to open fire upon our helpless heroes. But Rocky gets an idea. Grabbing a can of white paint and a paintbrush, Rocky soars over the top of the fake whale, painting a large white letter “T” atop it. The fliers look down and observe the letter – then also observe the time of day. Exactly four o’clock – “T” time! They conclude that whoever is in charge down there must be British, wave a salute to the boys, then fly away. Rocky and Bullwinkle bring their prize safely into port – then Bullwinkle praises Rocky on his fast and clever thinking. Rocky, however, confesses that the “T” wasn’t really what he was trying to spell – only the beginning of it – then holds up a sign of what the completed message was supposed to read. The sign simply reads, “The End.”

An unexceptional installment of Peabody’s Improbable History has the WABAC machine deposit the dog genius and Sherman outside the hangar of the Wright Brothers (1/31/60), on the roof of which is painted the motto, “If you want it done, get it done Wright”. The writers, however, leave their history books at the door. Getting hung up on the location setting of North Carolina, the Wrights are entirely miscast as rifle-toting country bumpkins, who have number trouble in performing the simple task of counting up to three to commence firing their shotguns. No sign of bicycle shops, and no discussion of aeronautic principles. Also, no explanation for how such twerps could construct a plane. The target they intend to shoot is a large bird inside the hangar, who has taken hold of their plane and is busy embracing its struts in mad affection. Wilbur declares that they should have made an ugly plane instead of a handsome one, so that bird wouldn’t have fallen in love with it. He asks Peabody if he knows who the bird is. Peabody replies, “I’m ashamed to say it – – Kitty Hawk?” The brothers nod, and Peabody adds, “It had to be.” The brothers try to tow their plane out when Kitty falls asleep, but find Kitty has ensured it’ll be no use to them outside, as she has kept the propeller. Peabody saves the situation by building a nest with an egg-shaped rock inside, letting the bird’s stronger mother instincts take over to shift her attention to hatching the rock. The brothers finally fly (after some delay in getting past counting to three as a signal to spin the prop), and spend their nights playing poker in the hangar while Kitty begs for food scraps from the table – the origins of the poker term, “Feed the Kitty”.

Tom Slick was an auto driver by trade, but somehow able to modify his trusty vehicle, the Thunderbolt Grease-Slapper, into any other mode of transportation needed to compete in any type of race imaginable. In The Badyear Blimp (12/16/67), Tom travels to Muncie, Indiana fairgrounds to compete in the Buster Banes Memorial Blimp Race, sponsored by the Badyear Rubber Company (makes of all manner of rubber items, including checks guaranteed to bounce). The Grease-Slapper is converted to a blimp gondola by removing the wheels and adding a rear propeller attached to the drive shaft. Elderly Gertie Growler and Tom’s girlfriend Marigold sit the action out, instead competing at the fair in a William Tell-style archery exhibition, with Gertie firing arrows at Marigold, who stands with an apple on her head, and dodges Gertie’s repeated near-misses. Baron Otto-Matic is also in an unusual position – on the ground, while his flunkey Clutcher pilots the Chain-Drive Sky Hooker, a barbed black blimp powered by bicycle pedaled propeller. Otto has decided to do the dirty work himself for a change below (”If you want a wrong thing done right…”).

The race gets off to a typical start, with the starter’s pistol bringing down a blimp first thing. Clutcher attends to jabbing other racers from the rear with his barbs and points, narrowing the competition further. Otto meanwhile attends to dirty tricks. Among a fair display of casaba melons, he has hidden a fake melon which is really a time bomb. But when he goes to retrieve it, he is speared in the rear end by a stray shot from Gertie’s arrows. A little wound won’t stop the Baron’s plans, as he lays sprawled among a couple dozen melons that have fallen from the display, and he tosses a “gift from a well-wisher” up to Tom in the form of what he believes is the bomb. Tom grabs a spoon, and is soon seen happily eating melon. “Then where’s the ticking one?”, states the worried Baron, searching in panic among the remaining melons spread around him. He locates the right one – just in time for the explosion. Tom next approaches a pylon around which he is to make his first turn. But the pylon moves forward at the same speed, preventing Tom from getting past it. A cutaway view shows us the baron within the pylon, pushing it forward from inside, with intent to keep one step ahead of Tom until he runs out of gas, then come back for Clutcher. The plan fails miserably and abruptly, when the Baron runs over the top of an open manhole, dropping him into the sewer. A sewer worker boots him out, complaining about people unexpectedly dropping in. Tom makes the turn and starts back for the home stretch. Now Clutcher and the Baron double up the peril, with Clutcher intercepting Tom’s flight path to ram him from the front (“That’s mighty sloppy steering”, Tom cries), while the Baron hoists a cannon onto a Ferris wheel at the rear of Tom’s airship, asking the ride operator to position him on top. Otto fires the cannon, blasting himself back to earth with the recoil. But the cannonball flies on course. Tom veers at the last second to avert collision with Clutcher’s needle-nosed craft. “But what about the cannonball”, Clutcher asks the audience. The iron ball hits the gas bag of Clutcher’s ship head on, knocking it right out of the sky. “Sorry I asked”, groans Clutcher, and falls with a thud. It seems Tom has victory in “the bag”, with no competing balloons. But the Baron is not through yet, noting, “There are more important things than winning – Cheating, for one thing.” He and Clutcher position a large skyrocket, to bring Tom’s blimp down as it passes overhead. Clutcher waits for the Baron’s signal to ignite the fuse with a lighted match. But the timing of the whole scheme is thrown off, when Clutcher receives another arrow in his rear end from Gertie, shifting his hand with the match under the fuse too soon. The Baron leaps upon the rocket to hold it back, and attempts to extinguish the fuse, but the powder ignites with him astride. Tom wonders about the explosions in the sky that follow, noting the time on his watch. “The fireworks are supposed to start at seven.” Tom wins the trophy, and Marigold congratulates him in the winner’s circle, just as Gertie’s last arrow parts the apple on her head in two. “Drat. Missed again”, grumbles Gertie. “But you hit the apple fair and square”, replies Tom. “What made ya’ think I was aiming for the apple?” responds Gertie, as Tom and Marigold react in puzzled surprise for the fade out.

There was also, of course, Super Chicken, and hi ever-present means of transportation, the Super Coop. But what exactly was this craft? It had no wings, no rudder or tail – just a body shaped like an egg, and some rocket exhausts out the rear. It’s not quite a plane, not quite a rocket ship, and years ahead of a Jetsons’ saucer car. I leave it to you whether it falls within or without our subject of discussion.

Joe Oriolo Productions’ Felix the Cat from the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s, would occasionally depict flying (or near flying) contraptions as part of a storyline. In a trilogy of episodes in which Felix conducts an expedition to the North Pole to bring back a walrus as companion for a lonely female at the zoo, Felix transports the captured male on a propeller-driven ice-sled he has created from his magic bag. Rock Bottom and the Professor pursue in hopes of hijacking the Walrus to claim the zoo’s finder’s fee. But the progress of the whole party comes to a dead stop when they reach the outer wall of a glacier, towering hundreds of feet above them as a wall of sheer ice, impossible to climb. It seems that no one will claim the zoo’s reward, and that everyone might as well brace for a long, long winter – until Felix merely pivots the propeller of his craft to point vertically instead of horizontally, and converts the sled into a helicopter, soaring straight upwards and then over the massive ice wall, while Rock and the Professor look helplessly on, realizing they just missed the boat.

In a stranger episode, The Professor’s Committed No Crime, the Professor labors on a new invention, which is a mystery – even to him. He can’t figure out for the life of him what it’s supposed to do. It looks just like an airplane, only it won’t fly. It has mechanical hands on telephone-style extenders, which act like mechanical pickpockets. But it has an honest streak, and puts back the items as fast as they are taken. Only by the sheer accident of hitting a nozzle that appears where a propeller should be, does the professor discover that the device emits a ray which mesmerizes anything it touches and turns it upside down. The professor sees possibilities in this – such as lifting bank buildings and turning them over, to empty them like a giant piggy bank. Felix and Poindexter try to intercede, but wind up overcome by the ray. The Professor even steals Felix’s magic bag with the power of the ray. Just as it seems the Professor’s plan will succeed, the plane develops a new talent – the ability to talk, with a face that appears on its nose cowling. “You belong in jail”, it threatens the Professor. “I know”, says the Professor, “but let’s keep that our little secret”. “You forgot”, says the invention. “I’m basically honest.” It flips itself upside down, emptying all of the stolen loot, then hits the Professor with its ray, displaying yet another new talent – the ability to materialize a small cell with padlocks around the professor, and to paint black prison stripes upon the Professor’s lab coat. Felix receives a medal from the police chief, but hangs it on the real hero – the invention, who blushes and responds, “Aw, shucks”.

1985 was a bad year for TV animation. The pre-Roger Rabbit animated world had dwindled to where a handful of feature animation projects would generally be spaced about two years apart in production, and television animation had dipped to the point where, if a series hadn’t been developed with the intention of being a hard-sell promotion for a line of toy products, it wasn’t given the green light at all. I was unfortunately at a junction of choosing careers around this time, and just couldn’t see myself spending my life slaving away over an animator’s desk to produce such dreck as Rubik, the Amazing Cube. Nevertheless, my relentless love of the art caused me to look high and low for anything remotely bordering upon entertaining – and the only “new game in town” that season was a syndicated import from Japan about a giant robot called Tranzor Z (originally “Mazinger Z”), dubbed into English with frequent typical awkwardness, and a heavy emphasis on rock guitar twanging to make its music sound modern. We had no idea the footage had actually been shot about a decade earlier, and had taken this long to get an American adaptation. It featured some of the strangest villains in the history of anime, renamed Devline (half man, half woman), and Count DeCapito (a beheaded villain who by weird technology has somehow managed to keep both head and body functioning through mechanical attachments, though neither is providing actual connective support to the other). But, the show wasn’t pushing a product! And, it included a character who became a dependable source for comic relief – a headstrong bully built like Bluto who wants to muscle in on the action, originally referred to as “Boss” in Japan, but here known as Bobo. And so, out of desperation, I, (as well as James Parten, co-writer on this site) found ourselves watching this strange concoction – and once in a while finding a laugh.

Episode 56 in the American syndication (numeric sequence is different for the original Japanese run, which included many episodes not seen here) was known by translation from the Japanese as “What a Surprise! Boss Robot Flies In The Air” or simply Bobobot Flies. Some preliminary explanation is in order. Tranzor Z, a fighting robot built of an indestructible new metallic element discovered by a team of professors, is piloted by a young adolescent named Tommy from a small hovercraft command module that links into the robot’s head, and flies by means of another separate winged attachment called “Scrambler”, which homes in on the robot when needed to fasten around its waist like a belt. Tranzor is the hero of many battles, but generally has a weaker support robot for backup name Aphrodite A, piloted by one Jessica (Tommy’s sister in the Japanese version, though I believe she is cast as just his girlfriend in the redub, to cover over sequences edited out where the two seem to spend most of their time in a battle of words full of sexual innuendo, which would have made the series unwatchable to American audiences and to my tastes). Bobo is leader of a group of tough guys, and has a thing for Jessica – as well as a talent for trying to show up Tomny, whose ego is equally large with somewhat-more-justified conceit about his own accomplishments. So conversations often break down into a heated three-way when the group is not fighting off the forces of evil. To try to rise to Tommy’s level, Bobo and his gang press the professors who invented Tranzor into building Bobo a robot – a creation almost mirroring the wide girth and stout arms and legs of its pilot, as well as his general clumsiness – which he names the Bobobot. Aside from a degree of brute strength, the Bobobot proves no match for Tranzor Z, nor for most villains in encounters, but can prove itself useful in a crowd, as in its first battle, where its primary value in thwarting the villain robot is to clamp onto the machine’s ankle, holding it down as dead weight.

In the featured episode titled above, a new villainous robot is sent to destroy a nuclear power plant, in hopes of cutting the power to cripple the research lab where Tranzor Z is based and leave it vulnerable to attack. Tommy gets Tranzor aloft with Scrambler before the power can be cut, and wages an easy battle against the threat. Meanwhile, Aphrodite and the Bobobot, neither of which can fly, are attempting to catch up on foot – not an easy task when the bulky Bobobot is along, who can’t keep up the pace. Aphrodite throws a rope around the Bobobot’s waist and attempts to help his speed with a tow, bit as she pauses for a step to spot Tommy whizzing past them in the sky, the Bobobot takes a misstep and crashes right into her, leaving both robots sprawled on the ground. The enemy robot, with most of its arsenal blasted away or neutralized by Tranzor, makes a tactical retreat into the sea, just as Jessica and Bobo arrive in winded fashion at the battle site. They are both upset at having missed seeing the monster entirely, and Tommy laughs at their feeble efforts, proud that he was able to do the job all by himself, and refers to his partners as “buffoons”. Jessica breaks into tears, while Bobo sulks and plots revenge. He hits upon an idea – that all his robot needs is flight power like Tranzor Z, and then he can really show Tommy up. With somewhat hesitant moral support from Jessica, Bobo and his gang, together with the Bobobot, picket outside the professors’ laboratory, yelling and carrying signs reading “Let Bobobot fly”. Finding no peace, the professors concur, “What choice have we got?”, and start knocking craniums together to come up with ideas. Their efforts harken back to reminiscences of “Goofy’s Glider”. First, they position Bobo in his robot at the top of a tall cliff, holding a king-size umbrella, and instruct Bobo to open the umbrella. “I don’t get it. It isn’t rainin’”, grunts Bobo. The professors tell him that aviation pioneers studied floatation by using umbrellas, and that they want him to jump off the cliff. “WHAT?? Just cause some pioneer did, I should jump off a cliff??” But Jessica’s urging to show Tommy up finally convinces Bobo to take the leap, though mumbling, “I don’t like this.” He jumps – and surprisingly, the umbrella begins to float him gently down. “Hey, this is great!” shouts Bobo. But his euphoria is short-lived, as the umbrella turns inside-out. “I’m really movin’ now”, saus Bobo, as his fall picks up speed dramatically. Then he realizes something’s not right, and wails, “HOLD ON-N-N-N-N!!!!”, as he crashes face first into the canyon floor, the umbrella landing upon his back a moment later, to flip back into proper direction, and cover the Bobobot like Goofy’s parachute pulled too late.

Next, the professors build an old-fashioned glider frame to fit around the Bobobot, allowing Bobo to grab the ends of the frame with each robotic had to provide him with wings, a fuselage and a tail. “Why the funny-looking ol’ plane, professors?”, asks Bobo. The professors assure him that all the old pioneers started in funny-looking planes like this – besides that, they didn’t have the money to build Bobo anything better. “I wonder if any of the pioneers lived through the tests?”. muses Bobo. With the help of a tow tractor to prod Bobo on, Bobo, with heaving effort, gets the robot up to speed to gain lift, rises into the sky, and the tow rope falls away. A few more seconds of glee for Bobo – until his robot’s weight makes the wings droop and sag in the middle, twisting them into vertical position – for another fall. Now the Professors repeat Goof’s experiment with a giant slingshot band, hooked between two radio towers. “Who was the pioneer on this test, Professors?”, asks Bobo. “Actually, you are”, they respond. The release again gets Bobo sailing – and faster than Tranzor Z – but provides no steering flexibility, lodging the Bobobot headfirst directly into the side of a cliff. “I give up.” “Me too”, shrug the professors one by one. But one of Bobo’s gang gets a better idea. Sneaking back to the research facility, they skulk to where Tommy’s hovercraft unit is kept, and remove from its dashboard the homing control that signals Scrambler for linkup. Bobo and Jessica don’t like messing with Tommy’s equipment, but Bobo justifies things by noting that he doesn’t see any monsters around, so they can return it later. He starts up the homing signal, and Scrambler sets off to find its target – just as an alert comes in to Tommy that the previous enemy robot has returned for another attack. Tommy leaps into the hovercraft, links up with Tranzor Z, then presses the button to summon Scrambler. He is shocked as Scrambler passes overhead, completely ignoring him, and heading for the woods – then finds the absence of the homing device from his internal dashboard. The professors are unable to control Scrambler from central bypass system in the lab as long as the homing box is still activated, so are powerless to give Tranzor Z flight until the summoning box can be deactivated. Tranzor must now face a dramatically improved enemy robot, with neither backup not height advantage, and takes a threatening beating.

Meanwhile, Bobo is attempting linkup with Scrambler. First, he doesn’t jump high enough, and the device sails past him without connecting. He radios it back, and leaps higher. The device attempts to clamp around his waist – but what a waist! It is obvious that this belt will need to be widened by several notches to ever work, and Bobo falls with a resounding thud again. Bobo makes one more attempt, this time himself grabbing Scrambler from the underside instead of Scrambler grabbing him – but only succeeds in throwing Scrambler’s flight off course, causing both machines to land in another crash. By now, the professors have zeroed in on the homing signal, and succeed in shutting off Bobo’s homing device, allowing the lab to override the signal and send Scrambler to help Tranzor Z. Bobo remains, his ego deflated, and nearly resigned to being grounded for life. But Jessica suddenly remembers in a flashback an instance where Tranzor Z, in an emergency, had once flown before the invention of the Scrambler – by grabbing hold in each hand of two missiles fired simultaneously by Aphrodite. Bobo decides to try it, running ahead of Jessica’s robot, and leaping into the air as high as he can to receive the missiles. Jessica fires, and Bobo successfully grabs a missile in his right hand – but just can’t reach the left one. With only one missile for power and no center of balance, Bob spins wildly out of control, while Jessica pounds her head and wonders what she’e ever going to do with him. The missile carries Bobo to the nuclear plant where the robotic battle continues to rage. Tranzor, despite having found Scrambler, is still taking a licking – until Bobo enters the scene from nowhere, missile in hand, and crashes right into the chest of the enemy robot. Pinned down and helpless, the bad robot becomes an easy target for an elevated force-field blast from Tranzor Z, and is destroyed. Bobo is a hero, but Tommy as usual doesn’t want to share the credit, and the battle of words is on again, with added flying of anything not nailed down being thrown across the room.

The “Peanuts” specials would of course be one of the first vehicles to exploit the success of writer Charles Schulz’s great success in comic strip and book form of the exploits of Snoopy vs. the Red Baron, in perhaps the most famous of the dog’s fame-seeking daydreams, where his doghouse is nominally changed into a Sopwith Camel, and somehow magically flies in “dogfight” against the unnamed Baron Von Richthofen, the famed “Red Baron” ace of WWI, who flew a signature Fokker Triplane bearing recognizable bright red (sources dispute whether the entire plane displayed this color, or only its top wing).

The general imagery of what became a best-selling small book on the subject was mirrored in creative animation from the Lee Mendelson-Bill Melendez special, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (10/27/66), in which Snoopy’s doghouse is cleverly depicted in semi-close-up, vibrating as if powered by an engine, with clouds and bursts of anti-aircraft fire moving past it, yet never shown at foundation level, so that we can never be quite sure whether it has left the ground. The camera flips to simulate Snoopy performing loops to keep the Baron off his tail and get him in his sights, and Snoopy vibrates his arms to the sounds of machine gun fire, as if shooting an invisible gun. However, looking all around, he temporarily loses sight of his prey, then receives a line of bullet-shot from the rear, which perforates several holes in the roof of his doghouse. The rear of the doghouse begins to belch smoke as the engine sputters and coughs, a fuel line apparently hit. Snoopy stands on the roof of his doghouse and faces his foe, giving him a salute in recognition of a worthy opponent. Snoopy then struggles with invisible controls, trying desperately to bring his craft in for a safe but forced lading. The doghouse abruptly levels with a thud, and Snoopy abandons ship by diving off his roof – right into his supper dish. Snoopy also spends sequences of the film imagining he is skulking behind enemy lines across the French countryside, with impressive shadowy background layouts, and encounters Schroeder at a Halloween party in an old barn, where he dances and marches to a medley of WWI tunes, ranging from uplifting patriotic marches to sentimental ballads that leave the dog wailing like a pup. The flying sequences would be reused in cutaway form as Snoopy’s dream, for the big-screen presentation of the series’ first theatrical feature, A Boy Named Charlie Brown (12/4/69).

This Is America, Charlie Brown: The Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk (11/4/88), is a rather leisurely-paced, almost real-time look at the the night before and day of the first powered flight, with Charlie Brown, Linus, Peppermint Patty, and Marcie along as spectators, and Snoopy and Woodstock as drivers of the local coach. An introductory few minutes opens the show, which looks like a lower budget remake of sequences from “Fly With Von Drake”, tracing from Icarus through balloons and gliders.

Charlie Brown and Linus are next seen on a bumpy ride in Snoopy’s coach, to spend the holidays visiting a cousin at Kitty Hawk. She fills them in on the local doings of the Wrights’ experiments for the last three years from a diary she’s kept, and informs them that the brothers hope to attempt a flight the following morning. The small talk between Linus and Charlie Brown is not badly written, seeming to capture some natural kids’ reactions regarding an innovative event that hasn’t happened yet, and might never, for that matter. Snoopy and Woodstock stay behind the next day, providing brief comic relief with Woodstock attempting to give Snoopy private flying lessons off a diving springboard wedged between rocks. En route to the event via bicycle, Charlie Brown hits a rock and bends his front wheel – leaving open an excuse to meet the brothers professionally for a little repair. Peppermint Patty and Marcie, who appear to be on the brothers’ crew of assistants (as they are holding wrenches), show Linus and Charlie Brown the machine inside a work hangar. Also within are a series of small practice boxkites the brothers have been using to test the wind. Charlie Brown can’t resist the thought of how great it would be to try to fly one of these beauties, and is coaxed by Linus’s cousin to give it a try, an idea which Charlie eventually warms up to when he realizes the beach has no kite-eating trees around. With Linus’s help, he manages to get the kite aloft – but the wind is too strong, and drags Charlie bumpity-bump along the sand dunes, finally resulting in a crash. The kite is wrecked, leading to a face-to-face meeting with the Brothers on the beach. They are thankfully not angry, the kite being one of their earlier prototypes, and they confess that failure is no stranger to them, as they’ve had their share for years. The kids assist is setting up the wooden track for the plane, and in getting the Wright Flyer atop its rolling platform for the ride. The historic event takes place, and the kids react with amazement and cheers. Charlie’s bicycle wheel is repaired, and Charlie and Linus eventually pack up for home, boarding Snoopy’s coach, now with modifications of wings and a tail, which quickly fall off as soon as Snoopy hits the first bump in the road.

Many years later, Blue Sky productions would revisit the familiar vignettes of Snoopy’s flying escapades in The Peanuts Movie (10/19/15), using a hybrid style of drawn animation shaded by computer to look like CGI. Their adaptation of the strip was truly amazing, breathing new life and old zing into virtually every frame. A visual highlight which is a feast to the eye is an approximately fifteen minute long sequence, depicting in chapter form scattered throughout the movie Snoopy’s novel of the exploits of the World War 1 flying ace, in a daring, fully dimensional aerobatic adventure that is cinematographically stunning and truly breathtaking. The sequence begins with a background origin of how Snoopy’s “Baron” fixation came to be. At show and tell for school, Linus has brought a toy model of the Baron’s Fokker triplane. Curious if the thing works, Charlie Brown spins the model’s propeller, causing it to take off uncontrollably, smashing and breaking light fixtures and other objects in the classroom, until someone opens a window to let it out. It buzzes Snoopy on the outside looking in, knocking him backwards into a trash dumpster. As it continues to soar around the school grounds, Snoopy discovers a toy typewriter thrown away in the trash, and the idea hatches for his novel of “The greatest love story ever told.”

Back at his doghouse, Snoopy begins to write Chapter 1 on the typewriter atop his doghouse roof. The scene transforms into a French aerodrome, where dashing Snoopy is emerging from the barracks at dawn, snapping into place his flight goggles and adjusting his scarf, ready to take on the foe. His attention is drawn to the sky, as a real Sopwith Camel comes in for a landing, with a pilot who at first in flight helmet looks like Snoopy’s twin. But when the goggles and helmet are pulled back, there is a major difference – it’s a she! A pink-eared French poodle named Fifi, who flies reconnaissance missions with her camera. “Wow!”, utters Snoopy in his usual doggie-yowp voice. He balances himself in flashy pose on his walking cane, and strikes a glittering smile to impress her. But nearby is a sight which is anything but impressive. His trusty doghouse flying craft is in a total state of disrepair, loose boards hanging from its framework everywhere. Snoopy yowls, aghast and embarrassed, while Fifi giggles. Snoopy signals his ground crewmen for a little action. Woodstock and several of the other yellow birds are goofing off playing poker, and snap out of it to hop to attention and give the doghouse an overhaul. They put it into what appears to be presentable shape, but when Snoopy approaches to inspect, the doghouse belches out a cloud of smoke, blackening Snoopy from top to tail. One of the birds provides the explanation, approaching with a stray spark plug he forgot to install. Fifi meanwhile proves her own prowess by tuning up her own engine with a wrench in a snap, all by herself – impressing Snoopy all the more, as his ideal. Snoopy grabs up a bouquet of purple posies from the grounds, to present to her as a token of his affection, but she takes off again before he can reach her. Snoopy takes to the skies with his trusty doghouse, searching for his lady love. He finds her and pulls up alongside, waving hi. She barrel-rolls off in a brief coy game of hard to get, making Snoopy match her moves and loop back over the top of her to see what he’s got behind the stick – then Fifi smiles to herself that he’s obviously some pilot. She pulls out her camera, and signals Snoopy to say cheese.

Snoopy poses for several gag photos in various poses and making faces. Not watching where he is going, Snoopy enters and crashes through a barn, emerging with a bale of hay atop his head, which blows off, still leaving Snoopy with strands of straw resembling a yellow moustache and scraggly blond hairdo. Fifi nevertheless scoops up a small patch of cloud off the top of a cloudbank, and blows it at Snoopy, where it forms into the shape of a heart around Snoopy’s head. Snoopy dives close to the ground, scooping up another bouquet of posies, then rises and is about to pass them to the girl, when a spray of bullets blasts the petals off each flower. In a zoom curving between them, a streak of red passes, which the camera slows to slow-motion to reveal the Baron’s triplane, as Snoopy reacts with a wail of “YOW!!” as the plane misses him by inches. Snoopy turns and pursues the fighter plane. Some wonderful flying acrobatics are presented in point-of-view flying perspective, as Snoopy and the Baron careen through the sky to gain advantage. It becomes plain, however, that the Baron’s real objective is not to engage Snoopy, but to take out the reconnaissance photographer, as he zeroes in on the tail of Fifi’s plane. Snoopy desperately attempts to shoot his imaginary machine guns with his arm vibrations to ward off the Baron’s attack, but the crafty flyer clips the wings of Fifi’s plane, causing the plane to flip, and Fifi to fall from the cockpit. Snoopy plunges into a dive in hopes of catching Fifi, but she is fortunately wearing a parachute, causing Snoopy some relief for the moment. But worry rises quickly again, as the Baron dives straight for the canopy of Fifi’s chute, snagging it, and flipping Fifi onto the tail of his own plane. Snoopy struggles to match speed with the Baron’s craft, trying desperately to reach the tail and seize Fifi’s hand. The clever Baron, however, dives toward a railroad trestle and follows the caboose of a passing train. Snoopy follows right on his tail, but a mountain tunnel looms ahead, with both the train and the Baron’s plane disappearing into the tunnel’s darkness. Snoopy cringes as he finds himself only inches from either the tunnel or a collision with the mountainside – and the scene transforms back to the present, Snoopy collapsing upon his doghouse roof from creative exhaustion, the story having to wait to resume in the next chapter.

When action resumes, Snoopy has somehow survived the railroad peril, and has briefly returned to the aerodrome, having lost track of the Baron. The wail of an air raid siren cranked by his all bird ground crew signals the Baron is swooping low to strafe the field. Sighting his old nemesis, Snoopy leaps onto his doghouse to take up the battle once again. The birds attempt to follow in real Sopwith Camels of their own, but prove of no help when one bird leaves the lead plane tethered to a stake in the ground, causing the other planes to pile up like a multicar collision behind him. Snoopy follows the Baron over the heart of Paris, passing between the towers of Notre Dame, the straight up the side of the Eiffel Tower. The Baron performs a mid-air stall to reverse direction, passing Snoopy on the way down. Snoopy tries to copy the maneuver, but is briefly hung up, when his doghouse lands precariously perched on the pinnacle of the tower. When he gets loose, he is considerably behind the Baron, and loses sight of him in a dark patch of clouds. After flying blind for a short time, Snoopy emerges from the clouds to see a dark night view of land below, over which hover several black and menacing barrage balloons. He realizes he has penetrated enemy territory. An engine’s drone is heard close by, and Snoopy looks up to find himself flying directly under the wheels of the Baron’s plane, so far undetected. Snoopy matches speed and course with the Baron, keeping himself from being noticed by his enemy, and also using the Triplane’s larger silhouette as something of a mask to being sighted from the ground. But the subterfuge doesn’t last long, as a group of searchlights begin scanning the skies from below.

In a creative shot using the small form of Snoopy appearing in searchlight beam all over the screen image of the night sky, Snoopy plays a game of hide and seek with the searchlight operators. Caught in one beam, he blacks out the circle of light by pulling it down from the top edge as if lowering a windowshade. As another beam hits him, Snoopy is seen wearing a fake moustache as a disguise, and points in the direction behind him as if to say, “You’ve got the wrong guy.” The light operator in fact flashes his light behind Snoopy, faked out by the ruse, then searches the skies again. While Snoopy continues this game, he gets sight of an encampment below, where a German dirigible is moored to a post. Inside its gondola, held prisoner, Snoopy spots Fifi. But snoopy has more immediate concerns, as the Baron joins the fray. After making a pass at Snoopy, the Baron seems to have disappeared – then loops around Snoopy from nowhere, ridding the boards of his doghouse with bullet holes. Snoopy begins to wail, pounding the roof of his doghouse, then repeats the classic moment from “Great Pumpkin” where he gives his enemy a salute as a tribute to his flying skill. The doghouse is downed, and, unlike the “Pumpkin” version, does not land without consequence, but is a battered mess, its boards loose and crooked. Snoopy attempts to restart the engine, and the house simply collapses.

Another chapter break. Snoopy somehow makes it back during the night by sneaking through the French countryside – and is able to find new transportation at the aerodrome (he must have a reserve doghouse stashed in the hangar). He vows to meet the enemy head on in broad daylight, this time bringing his entire squadron of bird-driven Sopwith Camels in for support, and carrying his chief mechanic Woodstock on board the doghouse to ensure no mechanical failure. But the enemy has amassed, too, and the Baron is on patrol, accompanied by a half-dozen other biplane fighters, and the command dirigible, with Fifi still inside. The two forces meet face to face, and a fierce mass dogfight begins. The baron swoops down on the Sopwith Camels, taking out most of them in a line with one spray of machine gun bullets. Snoopy revs his engine, but it sputters, and he send Woodstock under the hood for emergency repair. The engine kicks in – but one of the enemy biplanes has caught up, and is right on Snoopy’s tail. From the gondola, Fifi opens one of the observation windows, and tosses out her trusty monkey wrench, smashing the enemy plane’s propeller as he flies by. But debris from the impact also hits one of the struts supporting the gondola to the dirigible, and the gondola begins to snap off. Snoopy flies in close, trying to reach for Fifi’s paw from the window, but the Baron makes a pass to keep him from his objective. One remaining Sopwith carries most of Snoopy’s ground crew, and Snoopy signals them to perform a distractive maneuver. While the Baron continues in pursuit of Snoopy, the Sopwith flies above him, then pivots into upside-down position, dropping every loose object of flight equipment not nailed down in the Baron’s face. One of the birds, however, gets carried away, and breaks off the control stick to also jettison at the Baron – while his fellow birds start hitting him with their ground crew hats, to let him know just how stupid he is. The Sopwith goes down, leaving only Snoopy and Woodstock. At Snoopy’s command, Woodstock, carrying a screwdriver, jumps from the doghouse. Using the screwdriver as a brake, he lands on the Baron’s top wing, jamming the screwdriver end into the small gap between the upper wing and its aileron, to bring him to a quick stop. Woodstock then uses the screwdriver to remove the hinges from the aileron, crippling the Baron’s steering. To make things even more difficult for the foe, Woodstock hops to the surface of the tail, using the end of his screwdriver like a jack-hammer, and perforates and finally loosens the elevator surface from the tail. Without steering, the Baron careens out of control and peels off from the battle helplessly, while Woodstock relies on his natural flying power to stay aloft. At this moment, the dirigible gondola collapses, and Fifi falls. But on heroic “Mighty Mouse” tradition, Snoopy power dives to the rescue, catching her upon his roof. Woodstock also catches up, landing exhausted upon Snoopy’s nose, and the trio head for home and a victory celebration.

Back in the present, Snoopy types the last words upon his manuscript, then Woodstock hands the page to Lucy, whom Snoopy is using as a test audience. “A dog that flies? This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read!”, shouts Lucy, tossing the papers away. In response, as she walks away, she is struck on the head by a toss from Snoopy of the toy typewriter, the word “BONK!” appearing on the screen, just as in the Schulz strip.

Control tower indicates we’re cleared for more, next week.


  • The flight sequences in The Peanuts Movie were truly stunning. I found them the most memorable part.

  • I really enjoyed the epic saga of Maybe Dick this week. The trouble with having the whole series on DVD is that, being secure in the knowledge that I can watch it anytime I want, I very seldom bother to. I think it’s high time I revisited these classic moose and squirrel adventures.

    The Latin adage quoted by Pericles Parnassus, “De gustibus non disputandum [est]”, doesn’t mean “There’s a sucker born every minute,” it means “There’s no accounting for taste.” Pericles may have been groping for the equivalent expression, “Mundus vult decipi ergo decipiatur,” or “The world wants to be deceived, so let it be deceived.” As for the Bulgarian expression Boris cites towards the end of the story (meaning “The jig is up!”), anyone’s guess is as good as mine.

    1985 was a bad year for TV animation, all right, but at least you had “Tranzor Z” to enjoy. I have absolutely no recollection of it; maybe it wasn’t syndicated in my area. The opening title looks intriguing. However, I recall that in 1985, a lot of animated shows (e.g., “Jem”, “Thundercats”) apparently blew most of their animation budget on an elaborate opening title sequence, with the show itself mired in extremely limited and repetitive animation, if one can dignify it with that term.

    In a weird parallel to Count DeCapito, the villain in the 1985 horror film “Re-Animator” likewise keeps his body and severed head functioning independently, but through chemical rather than physical means.

    I had an experience very similar to Charlie Brown’s the last time I flew a kite. The wind was too strong, I couldn’t control the kite, and the string lacerated my hands pretty badly. (Should’ve worn gloves.) The kite crashed into the ocean, and while I was fishing it out a wave drenched me and ruined the phone in my pocket. Aaaugh! Oh well, it wasn’t the only time I’ve felt a spiritual affinity with that good ol’ wishy-washy blockhead. That’s one childhood pastime I’m content to leave in the past.

  • Snoopy’s World War I flying ace fantasies were also the inspiration for a 1966 hit song, “Snoopy vs The Red Baron,” by The Royal Guardsmen, which eventually reached #2 on the charts. Schulz and United Featured Syndicate sued for unauthorized use of the character, and won the rights to the publishing revenues from the song.

  • Glad to see you back tgo my childhood era for most of these (the 1960s)..I was alwaays wonderingl since Felix didn’t seem to have his bag in some of his episodes, like the walrus one or the Professor and Rock Bottom as respectively the wizard and Sir Rock, where he has a picnic basket with Poindexter, if that and the jeep he drove weren;’t created from the bag offscreen.

  • Fun fact: On “The Peanuts Movie”, the voice of Fifi is Broadway veteran Kristin Chenoweth, who had her big break playing Sally on a revival of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”. Also, the moustache Snoopy wears during the spotlight scene looks a lot like the one Bill Melendez, legendary director of the original specials, always wore. Melendez also provided Snoopy’s growls and yelps, and the movie uses archival recordings of him to give him one last posthumous credit.

    • During one of his flying ace adventures in the comic strip in the 1960s, Snoopy was shot down behind enemy lines and had to don a disguise. The final panel showed him wearing a large false moustache along with his helmet, goggles and scarf, asking: “Wo ist der root beer hall?” I remember it well, because my mother embroidered the scene on a pillowcase I slept on for many years. But I never connected it with Bill Melendez until now.

  • There was a “Brady Kids” episode where the kids met the “Wrong Brothers,” a pair who think they invented the airplane. It was just as bad as you’d imagine.

  • Some of the “Great Pumpkin” dogfight (ha ha) sequence was also recycled for He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown (1968).

    • And at least one Weber’s Bread commercial and the feature “A Boy Named Charlie Brown.” It was worth repeating, I must admit.

  • There was a Peabody and Sherman episode that involved pirates, and midway through they book a cheerfully anachronistic airline flight … on a line that turns out to be run by the pirates, complete with pirate pilot and stewardess.

    I wasn’t comfortable with “The Peanuts Movie”. Evidently targeting kids who didn’t know the comic strip, they “cured” Charlie Brown of his insecurities and explained away all his problems, and stripped Snoopy of his fantasy lives by making the WWI Flying Ace a book he’s writing. Granted, the visuals were impressive.

    • Actually, the part of Snoopy writting a WWI novel orgininated from the comic strip in a storyline from the mid-’80’s. The novel had apperances of Snoopy’s siblings Spike and (for the 2nd and last time) Belle. It was planed to be adapted into animation in a speical in the ’90’s (some storyboards are in Soloman’s “Art of Peanuts Animation” book) but it wasn’t produced.

      • Scratched that: the storyline happened around the end of April of 1981 and it wasn’t revealed to be part ofa novel till around Memeorial Day. Here’s the start of the story:

  • Oh, that “Rocket Fuel Formula” story went on forever (I actually like the laugh track in the first segments); what a relief when it finally ended. Interesting how the characters evolved during it.

    The plane in “The Professor’s Committed No Crime” sounds a lot like Popeye; let’s face it, Jack Mercer was no Mel Blanc or Daws Butler (though he did attempt Yogi Bear on the flip side of a Felix single).

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