Things get off to a bumpy start. First, Charlie fails to make anything profound out of the cloud formations above, just a "ducky" and a "horsy." (But that's always been one of his best qualities--he calls them as he sees them.) Then he has a disastrous kite experience, followed by further humiliation on the baseball field (with its dandelion-covered pitching mound). Just when it seems as if things couldn't get much worse--they don't. Charlie finds something he's good at. Lucy, Violet, and the rest of the Peanuts gang doubt that his spelling bee winning streak can possibly last, but Charlie proves them all wrong and makes it to the national championships in New York City. His best pal, Linus, and free-spirited pooch, Snoopy, arrive shortly afterwards and provide their support. Granted, this rare, full-length feature film ends just as it began, with one more small humiliation, but it's Charlie's achievement that leaves the bigger impression. There are even a few lessons to be learned, but the tone is never preachy or condescending. Along the way, there are numerous pleasures to enjoy: Vince Guaraldi's classic Oscar-nominated score (featuring lyrics by Rod McKuen), the brightly hued, clean-lined animation (which occasionally erupts into impressionist and pop art flights of fancy), Schroeder's lovely rendition of Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata, Snoopy's ice-skating escapade at Rockefeller Plaza, and Linus's Fred Astaire-inspired dance with his long lost blanket. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
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