This year marks the fifth anniversary of the death of Bill Melendez (1916-2008), who worked as an animator, voice artist, producer, and director. For a while in the 1940s he worked at one of the animation units at Warner Bros., then moved over to United Productions of America (UPA). In 1963, he founded his own studio (Bill Melendez Productions), and was later entrusted by Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz to bring his Peanuts characters to life in the form of TV specials. He produced and directed most of them, as well as providing the vocal effects for the characters of Snoopy and Woodstock. For this latest installment of Animation Corner, I’ll be looking back at the first two feature films featuring the Peanuts gang, the Oscar-nominated A Boy Named Charlie Brown and Snoopy, Come Home.
Directed by Melendez, 1969’s A Boy Named Charlie Brown centers on a boy name Charlie Brown who, after being fed up with being a loser, volunteers for the class spelling bee and wins. He then works his way towards the national spelling bee. Featuring the voices of Peter Robbins, Pamelyn Ferdin, Glenn Gilger, Andy Pforsich, Sally Dryer, Erin Sullivan, and Bill Melendez, this critically acclaimed film was partly based on some of the Peanuts comic strips that were published in newspapers in 1966 and was a decent box office success. Rod McKuen contributed three songs to the film, and Vince Guaraldi and John Scott Trotter contributed the instrumental tracks. In regards to the art design, the film features moments of rotoscoping. Some backgrounds have a pop art feel, while many others were rendered with watercolors. Among the film’s accolades was an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song Score.
Directed by Melendez, 1972’s Snoopy, Come Home centers on Snoopy going off to visit a sick girl named Lila (his original owner) after receiving a letter from her. Featuring the voices of Bill Melendez, Chad Webber, Robin Kohn, Stephen Shea, David Carey, Hilary Momberger, Chris De Faria, and Johanna Baer, this critically acclaimed film cost $1 million to make but unfortunately only grossed $245,000 domestically (it has become a financial success over the years due to TV airings, as well as video and DVD sales). The film’s songs were contributed by Oscar-winning songwriting duo Richard and Robert Sherman (Peanuts creator Schulz described their hiring as an experiment to give the film a more commercial, Disney feel, which is why regular Peanuts composer Vince Guaraldi didn’t work on the film). Among the film’s accolades is a CEC Award for Best Children’s Film and a Grammy Award nod for the Sherman brothers.
(I couldn’t find a trailer, but I thought the clip below might make a nice substitute. Enjoy!)