Snoopy's phlegmatic brother, Spike, meets cartoonist Charles Schulz's daughter, Jill, in "It's the Girl in the Red Truck, Charlie Brown," an hourlong "Peanuts" special combining animation and live action that airs at 8 tonight on Channels 2 and 8.
Spike falls for the lovely Jill when her ancient red pick-up breaks down in front of his desert home, a hollow saguaro cactus. Amused by his clumsy antics, Jill takes him with her, but soon finds him competing with her boyfriend for her attention.
The animators give Spike a quirky, bow-legged walk that emphasizes his skinny body, and expressions that play off his heavy-lidded eyes. Much of this clever animation gets lost, however, because director Walter Miller uses extreme long shots that reduce the character to a nearly invisible figure in a vast desert landscape.
Similar long shots and graceless editing spoil Schulz's solo roller skating routine and her comic duet with Spike.
Six months ago, "The Girl in the Red Truck" might have seemed like a clever blending of animation and live action, but "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" has set a new standard for mixing media. Although this show was obviously made for a tiny fraction of the film's budget, viewers can't help missing the elaborate shadows and lighting effects that brought the cartoon characters in "Roger" into the live-action world.
A more imaginative director might have kept the audience too involved with the story to notice the technical limits, but Miller's leaden pacing and distant camera work rob the program of its potential charm. Even a character as familiar as Spike seems remote, and the viewer ceases to care about the outcome long before the hour drags to a close.