Monday, December 18, 2006

Bill Melendez and the Peanuts Animations

Bill (J. C.) Melendez, who first worked at Walt Disney Studios during the classic animated 40s era, then moved to Leon Schlesinger Cartoons (AKA Warner Brothers Cartoons) in 1942 at the time of the Disney strike, where he made a number of notable Looney Tunes cartoons. But his biggest success was his collaboration with comic-strip cartoonist Charles M. Schultz, and the making of the first animated Peanuts special on CBS-TV, the irreplaceable Christmas special A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). Ultimately, he would be involved as director of about forty Charlie Brown TV specials after 1965, and the producer of a 1983 Saturday morning cartoon show called The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show. He also 'acted' by providing the voices of Snoopy and Woodstock. [Jazz musician Vince Guaraldi scored the 1965 special and continued to score all the Charlie Brown television specials till his death in 1976. His distinctive scores were used on all subsequent specials, movies and TV series.]
Melendez' feature-length film collaborations with Schultz included:
  • A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969) - this was the first full-length animated film starring the Peanuts gang; it contained Vince Guaraldi's classic Oscar-nominated score (that featured lyrics by Rod McKuen)
  • Snoopy, Come Home (1972) - often considered the best feature-length Peanuts film, featured the first appearance of Woodstock (named after the famous rock-music festival in 1969)
  • Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977)
  • Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back!) (1980) - its sequel was a 23-minute TV special tribute to US veteran soldiers of WWII titled What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? (1983), a Peabody Award winner

A stage version of the Peanuts comic strip, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, first appeared in 1967 in an off-Broadway Greenwich Village theatre, and remained for four years. The show was later revived on Broadway in 1999 for a short run, and won two Tony Awards. Melendez also directed the Emmy Award-winner for Outstanding Animated Program for PBS-TV's special The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe (1979) which was co-produced by the Children's Television Workshop (famed for two TV series, Sesame Street and The Electric Company). It was based upon the first story of C.S. Lewis' classic children's tales series, Chronicles of Narnia, and it was the first full-length animated movie made for television.

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