Those specials–at least the big three: the Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas shows that were recently released in a “deluxe holiday collection” by Warner Bros.–have a mood unlike any animated film for children made before or since. For one thing, they’re really, really slow–slow not just by our ADD-addled contemporary standards but also next to the programming of their own time. Just compare the meandering pace of A Charlie Brown Christmas
(in which Charlie tries, and fails, to direct a single rehearsal of a Christmas play) with the generation-spanning epic crammed into Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
(1964). But what really sets the Peanuts specials apart is their sadness. Even digitally remastered, with the background colors restored to their original vivid crispness, the Peanuts holiday specials have a faded quality, like artifacts from a lost civilization. As Linus observes of the wan, drooping pine sprig Charlie Brown eventually rescues from a huge lot of pink aluminum Christmas trees, “This doesn’t seem to fit the modern spirit.”
My favorite is this beautiful scene with the children skating to the bittersweet music of Vince Guaraldi.
Stevens talks about the insights from the extras on the new DVD set, which reveal that it was Schultz who insisted that there be no laugh track and that real children provide the voices. But the highlight of the piece is her lyrical descriptions of what made those early specials so, well, special.
Here I could write an epic poem detailing the multiple felicities of the Peanuts specials: the van Gogh-esque night sky that dwarfs Linus and Sally as they wait in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin, Linus’ stirring reading from the Gospel of Luke at the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas, the impossibly hip “Little Birdie” song that plays in the background as Snoopy and Woodstock prep for their Thanksgiving feast.
The Washington Post reports on the first study to link teen pregnancies to sexual content on television. The study is being published today in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The authors found a “strong association” between teen pregnancy and watching sexual activity in television programs. Teenagers who watch a lot of television featuring flirting, necking, discussion of sex and sex scenes are much more likely than their peers to get pregnant or get a partner pregnant, according to the first study to directly link steamy programming to teen pregnancy. The study, which tracked more than 700 12-to-17-year-olds for three years, found that those who viewed the most sexual content on TV were about twice as likely to be involved in a pregnancy as those who saw the least…. Studies have found a link between watching television shows with sexual content and becoming sexually active earlier, and between sexually explicit music videos and an increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases. And many studies have shown that TV violence seems to make children more aggressive. But the new research is the first to show an association between TV watching and pregnancy among teens.
The problem with these studies is always cause and effect. Do teenagers who are already sexually active or considering becoming sexually active tend to watch more of these programs or do these programs promote unprotected sexual activity?
It is stupid to suggest that media does not affect behavior, especially of teenagers who are just beginning to look beyond the home and school for guidance on behavior. There is a billion-dollar industry devoted to the impact of media on behavior — it is called advertising. Television programming may not be selling clothes or toothpaste, but it is always selling a notion of what is — and is not — cool. And that does affect the choices made by viewers.
A beautiful tribute to book, television, and movie critic John Leonard in Salon has this lovely quote from him about the books he loved: My whole life I have been waving the names of writers. From these writers, for almost 50 years, I have received narrative, witness, companionship, sanctuary, shock, and steely strangeness; good advice, bad news, deep chords, hurtful discrepancy, and amazing grace…The books we love, love us back. In gratitude, we should promise not to cheat on them — not to pretend we’re better than they are; not to use them as target practice, agitprop, trampolines, photo ops or stalking horses; not to sell out scruple to that scratch-and-sniff infotainment racket in which we posture in front of experience instead of engaging it, and fidget in our cynical opportunism for an angle, a spin, or a take, instead of consulting compass points of principle, and strike attitudes like matches, to admire our wiseguy profiles in the mirrors of the slicks. We are reading for our lives, not performing like seals for some fresh fish.
It takes some brains to make a good dumb comedy. Paul Rudd, who has been the best thing in too many films that ranged from dumb, to awful, to wildly uneven, has co-created a film that manages to insult the intelligence of its characters without insulting the intelligence of its audience too badly.
I could have done with less emphasis on the inherent hilarity of hearing an angry little kid use bad language and make sexually precocious comments. And some of the double entendres were so nudge-nudge obvious they were closer to single and a fraction. But some good lines and sharply observed characters make it above average for its genre.
Rudd and Seann William Scott play Danny and Wheeler, who work for a company that sells a soft drink called Minotaur by visiting schools for a phony “don’t do drugs” talk that is really just a way to push their soda. Wheeler wears a Minotaur suit and Danny half-heartedly tells the kids to drink Minotaur instead of doing drugs and then they drive off in their Minotaur-obile. This is all just fine with Wheeler, a walking id who just wants to get high and have sex. But Danny once wanted more from life and when his increasing bitterness causes his lawyer girlfriend to leave him, seeing the Minotaur-obile towed away is just one indignity too many. He objects, leading to arrests, leading to community service at Sturdy Wings, a Big Brother-style place run by a former drug addict (Jane Lynch). Each is assigned a “Little.” Wheeler gets a precocious kid (Bobb’e J. Thompson) who swears all the time and accuses everyone of racism and child abuse. He is also way too fascinated with feminine anatomy, a trait they manage to bond over. And Danny gets Augie (“Superbad” McLovin’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a cape-wearing nerd whose life revolves around a Medieval-ish role-playing game
Director David Wain manages the tricky balance between having some fun with the conventions of the genre without getting mean about it. Yes, everyone learns a few lessons about self-respect and relationships (and sword-fighting) but when they do it in medieval role-playing gear inspired by a rock band, it’s a lot of fun to watch. Note, however, that a child actor’s bad language and sexual obsessions are more disturbing than funny and raise serious questions about whether the laws protecting child performers are adequate and adequately enforced.
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Big Change at This Year's Oscars: Thanked Names on Screen Jezebel reports a long-overdue innovation in this year's Oscar ceremony: nominees will have the opportunity to submit their list of people to thank before the show, so that they can run across the bottom of the screen. This will give the ...
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