“The Mayflower Voyagers,” the opening chapter of “This Is America, Charlie Brown,” the first animated miniseries (airing tonight at 8 on CBS Channels 2 and 8), sends the “Peanuts” gang to the New World with the Pilgrims. Unfortunately, the script for this educational/entertainment program proves far less seaworthy than the historic sailing ship.
Linus, Lucy, Charlie Brown, Peppermint Patty and Snoopy have always inhabited a tranquil, suburban child’s world where grown-ups are never seen. The contrast between their adult ruminations on life and their mundane, childish problems provides much of the humor in the comic strip and the better animated films.
Charles Schulz’s characters seem bizarrely out of place in the grubby hold of a 17th-Century sailing ship, surrounded by adults. Nor do their 20th-Century games work in the wilds of Colonial New England.
It’s amusing to watch Marcie tweak Peppermint Patty’s aplomb in a classroom, but when the two girls are supposed to be gathering desperately needed firewood, the joke doesn’t seem funny and the attempt at humor destroys the sense of menace the writers have been trying to build.
Some of the weakness of “The Mayflower Voyagers” is due to the limits of the animation. A two-dimensional drawing of a ship bouncing over flat blue waves doesn’t capture the terror of a gale at sea. Nor can the simple faces of these characters communicate the fear and faith of the early settlers confronting a hostile wilderness.
The program also suffers from poor checking, the animator’s term for quality control: In one chase sequence, the explorers’ heads pop off their bodies. Although Lucy is drawn bare-footed, her feet are painted grayish-brown, as if she were wearing shoes. Good grief!
If “The Mayflower Voyagers” represents a fair sampling of the series, “This Is America, Charlie Brown” is a well-intentioned effort to present history and humor that delivers little of either.
The first four segments of the miniseries are scheduled to air on consecutive Fridays, with the remaining four to be presented later this season.
For all its flaws, the “Peanuts” special ranks considerably above Warner Brothers’ latest cut-and-paste effort, “Bugs vs. Daffy: The Battle of the MTV Stars,” which follows on CBS at 8:30 tonight.
Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck--two of the funniest and best-loved cartoon characters ever created--are reduced to veejays who broadcast musical snippets of old Warners cartoons. Most of these numbers were used to set up a situation or a gag in the original films. They were rarely the funniest parts of the cartoons, and they’re even less funny taken out of context.
The Wascally Wabbit deserves better.