Released the same year as "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown"; it's baseball season for our gang but Charlie Brown's team are always losing on account of his poor baseball skills and foolishness. Eventually the team decides to split-up to take in the good old fashioned summer fun, until they are offered by Mr. Hennessey (the owner of a local hardware store) to sponsor their team by placing them in a professional baseball league (even though they suck badly at the sport) and buy them new uniforms. But bad luck hits Charlie Brown once again when he finds out that according to league rules, girls and animals aren't allowed to participate in the sport, which causes him to turn down Hennessey's offer since he couldn't bare the idea of eliminating his friends and pet dog from the team. Reluctant to tell his team the news (with the exception of his close friend Linus), he decides to tell them after their next game in hopes that his team's lifted spirits will cause them to win and forgive him for turning down their chance of making it to the big leagues.
Before viewing this special, I was already familiar with the concept and images of Charlie Brown playing Baseball and always sucking at it, and after getting the chance to witness a whole entire special dedicated to that entire concept, I thought it was good. From an emotional stand-point it wasn't as powerful and deep as "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (though to be fair that is very hard to top), but its heart is certainly still in the right place. Much like how you felt and understood about Charlie Brown's mixed feelings about Christmas as he tries his hardest to do right for others, the same applies here as well, where you hope and pray for things to go right for him after getting so much hate from the kids around him. And what's unique about how this special carries this simplistic story is instead of having a bunch of one dimensional bullies from the opposing team harass and mock Charlie Brown and his team (like in most sport related stories), they're off-screen character that just throw the balls as Charlie Brown misses, where it's his very own team who are giving him all this cruelty and criticisms. That's in all honesty both a clever and mature way of handling this type of story. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy watching rivalries between the person who we're supposed to root for and the person we're supposed to despise. But given that this story is centered on Charlie Brown trying to do right for his own team that always kick him to the ground, as opposed to winning for a championship or big grand prize, it makes perfect sense to downplay the teams that we're supposed to root against as little as possible, that way we can focus more on his relationship with his own team and feel the pain that they give him rather than also having a pointless set of extra bullies who don’t contribute to anything. So the harshness of Charlie Brown's surroundings is definitely there for you to get emotionally attached to his character. But the part of the special where it's emotionally lacking with the most is how much the ending and message is a lazy rehash of the ending from the Christmas Special. Sure it feels rewarding, but it doesn't feel as touching. It just feels rushed and hammered-in as a way to duplicate the nice ending that we just saw before. The only real surprise it brings is how it takes a funny and yet downbeat turn for after when they help Charlie Brown, which is a concept that would later be repeated in the Halloween special.
Now from an animation and voice acting stand-point, it's pretty much not that different from how it was in the Christmas special, and the Halloween special that would follow afterwards. The animation is limited and clunky; the voice acting is stilted as the quality itself at times would sound like it's being recorded in a booth; but the simplicity of it just adds to its charm, that's supported by that jazzy score that we all love hearing, characters who are funny and over the top but yet relatable, and visuals that exploit the joys of summer and (mainly) baseball as we're given plenty of humorous bits. My personal favorite out the jokes in this special is the opening where Charlie Brown tries to catch the ball. He goes to such great lengths to chase after a ball that wound technically be considered a home run for the other team since it is clearly out of bounce that it’s funny and a perfect opening. But honest to god, this scene would've been so much funnier and a better way for his team to do good for him if this the moment was in the special's climax where he finally catches the ball only to have his team mates call him a "block head" for his pointless attempt, until they later understand his attempts of helping his team through this action and for turning down Hennessey's offer. But I'm nitpicking.
Though I sound like the special didn't offer anything that new to the franchise apart from it being the first Charlie Brown cartoon to have him play baseball and take place in the summer, there are a few other little elements that would be reused more often throughout the franchise. For instance this is the first time when we see Charlie Brown take a good amount of his screen-time monologuing to himself for how he feels about everything, when in the Christmas special the scenes of him talking to himself or playing out to the audience would either be a reaction to something happening, or him expressing how he feels to somebody present. And when he does say something to himself it would be very brief. This is also the first Peanuts Special where there's an off-screen adult present. In the last special, we never once saw any of the kids interact with an adult, but here we do, who even manages to play out as the major conflict to Charlie Brown. I know, we don't hear that famous muted trombone sound for whenever he speaks, but regardless, it still doesn't take away from the fact that he's the first adult presence for this series of cartoons.
As a continuation to "A Charlie Brown Christmas" it isn't nearly as powerful and inspiring, but it's not a bad follow-up either. Everything that made the previous Charlie Brown special charming and unique is duplicated well here, as it still manages to give us a few new things that would be repeated throughout "The Peanuts" franchise while it all takes place in a setting that fits its summertime theme nicely. If you love "The Peanuts" and baseball, then you don't want to miss this!