What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown is the 17th of the prime time animated TV specials based on the popular comic strip Peanuts by Charles Schulz. It was originally aired on CBS in 1978. It's notable in that it solely features Snoopy and Charlie Brown; none of the other Peanuts cast appear — and its plot is extremely similar to that of Jack London's The Call of the Wild.
The special was released on DVD as part of the Peanuts 1970's Collection, Volume Two set.
In the winter, Charlie Brown is trying to pretend to be a musher with Snoopy, but Snoopy has other ideas and gets Charlie Brown to pull while he has fun riding in the sled. When night comes and they are comfortably indoors, Charlie Brown is indignant that Snoopy is adjusting too well to home life, reminding Snoopy of facts that Arctic dogs are only fed once a day, their meals largely consisting of cold meat and raw fish (to which Snoopy blanches and gives a look of "it is too bad to be them") and coming to the conclusion that Snoopy is "overly civilized". After making a dinner of five pizzas and a large milkshake — all of which he eats himself — Snoopy goes to bed on his doghouse and promptly wakes up to find out that he is now a sled dog of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska, presumably during the Klondike Gold Rush or the 1925 serum run to Nome.
At first Snoopy is cruelly mistreated by his owner (who is only seen in silhouette and only speaks in a much deeper version of the classic Peanuts adult "waa-waa-waa" language) and his fellow dogs, being run ragged and then denied any food or water. The dogs also take turns barking loudly at Snoopy in order to let him know he is indeed an outsider. One scene which breaks the snow scenes is where the sledmaster stops at a honky tonk, and a hungry Snoopy sneaks inside to snatch a sandwich and a mug of root beer sitting near a piano where he starts playing The Washington Post March. Snoopy then tries his hand at a game of poker, where he keeps a poker face until he laughs out loud revealing his improbable winning hand of five aces, which causes a brawl and leaving Snoopy to escape into the next room. He then finds himself on stage with a painted backdrop of Paris, France and is cheered for his dancing, except when the music changes and Snoopy impersonates a can can dancer, to which the men riot. Snoopy is thrown out of the bar and is back with the sled dogs, where he continues to be mistreated, and denied food and water.
Unable to take anymore, Snoopy breaks down crying and converts to his "new life" in order to survive, he bares his fangs and falls to walking on all fours, and challenges the lead dog to a fight, which Snoopy wins. Ultimately Snoopy becomes the "Alpha Male" of the sled dog pack and also turns the tables on the rest of the dogs by denying them food and water.
Eventually, he leads his owner over an ice-covered lake when the ice cracks and causes all the sled dogs and the owner to be swallowed into the water. Snoopy finds himself being pulled into the hole. As he sinks screaming for his life, Snoopy wakes up clinging to the side of his doghouse and is relieved that he was just having a nightmare.
Snoopy then wakes Charlie Brown and recounts his nightmare in pantomime, to which Charlie Brown allows Snoopy to spend the night inside with him, but not before Snoopy helps himself to a large ice cream sundae, reminding himself his Arctic experience was indeed just a nightmare.
This animated special contains examples of:
- Acid Reflux Nightmare: Snoopy eats a lot of pizza before sleeping, thus resulting in this.
- Animation Bump: The entirety of Snoopy's dream sequence easily qualifies (particularly considering the relatively conservative animation style of the majority of the Peanuts filmography), most notably the movements of the humans (at least what the audience can see of them) and sled huskies, both of which have noticeably more realistic and detailed designs compared to the franchise's typical art style, Snoopy dancing in the bar (with conspicuously more three-dimensional perspectives than even the special's remaining scenes) and the eerie fluidity◊ of the brawl between Snoopy and the alpha husky.
- Big Eater: Snoopy makes and eats five pizzas and a milkshake in one setting. With that in mind, it's no wonder he had a nightmare.
- Break the Cutie: Snoopy in the nightmare. About three-fourths of the way into the special, the constant exhaustion, freezing, hunger, thirst and abuse finally get to him and he breaks down and cries... and then the final straw comes when feeding time comes and the other dogs deny him food for the umpteenth time. Upon which he transforms into a vicious beast.
- Canine Confusion: Snoopy eats five pizzas and a milkshake. All that happens to him is that he has a nightmare, but in real life, he would've died or at least gotten extremely ill (especially since there was chocolate sprinkled in the milkshake).
- Catapult Nightmare: Snoopy wakes up from his dream by falling off the roof of his doghouse.
- A Crack in the Ice: The nightmare climaxes with the sled team falling through this.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Snoopy became this after having taken enough abuse from the other sled dogs.
- Darker and Edgier: Definitely one of the darkest of the specials, with only the later entries What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? (which deals with World War II) and Why, Charlie Brown, Why? (childhood leukemia) going grimmer, along with Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown when the theatrical films are factored in. At least in this case, it's All Just a Dream.
- A Day in the Limelight: This one's virtually all-Snoopy; Charlie Brown only appears at the very beginning and end, and none of the other regular characters appear at all.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Charlie Brown gets unreasonably snappish with Snoopy when Snoopy proves unable to pull the sled. Not a nice thing to do, but when he offers to pull the sled himself to show how it's done, Snoopy answers by taking out a whip and forcing him to run with the sled all over the neighborhood, lashing at him with the whip and laughing uncontrollably. Presumably, this is due to Snoopy's irritation with Charlie Brown's constant insistance that he act like what his owner thinks a dog should be, but it's still a bit much. In some ways Snoopy's nightmare can be seen as a sort of Karmic Disproportionate Retribution, as he gets the same treatment from the sled owner, with a fair bit of extra abuse, humiliation and cruelty thrown in from the other dogs.
- Dying as Yourself: Snoopy reverts to his usual bipedal mannerisms and voice from his feral mindset as he is dying near the end of the special... just before he wakes up from his dream.
- "Everybody Dies" Ending: The dream ends with the sled team falling through cracked ice and drowning, with Snoopy nearly being dragged down as well.
- Every Pizza Is Pepperoni: When Snoopy is shown baking pizza, it's topped with pepperoni.
- Four Legs Good, Two Legs Better: Deconstructed throughout the special in that Snoopy's bipedal stature (typically one of his most noticeably human traits) is depicted as preventing him from keeping up with the other sled dogs (all quadrupedal and realistically designed huskies) within his dream; similarly, his bipedal stature ultimately doesn't enable him to pass as a human enough to prevent being thrown out of a bar and back into laborious duty. Upon snapping, however, Snoopy reverts to a quadrupedal stance, which ultimately enables him to fulfil the physical demands imposed on him at the cost of his humanity.
- Hates Being Touched: When Snoopy tries sleeping next to the lead dog, the lead dog just growls and barks at him, apparently because he does not like being cuddled up with.
- He Who Must Not Be Seen: The sled musher is only ever seen in silhouette or as a shadow looming over Snoopy, and is really portrayed more as a force that keeps whipping the dogs to get them to run and pull the sled than he is an actual character. This of course just makes him seem a lot more menacing.
- Humiliation Conga: Happens to Snoopy in the saloon scene; first getting caught up in the music roll of the piano, then causing a riot after showing his improbable hand of five aces, then finally impersonating a can-can dancer on stage which causes the audience to boo him and throw fruits and vegetables at him.
- Jerkass: All of the sled dogs have their moments, but the lead dog is the meanest of them all, barking at Snoopy whenever he tries to get some food or a drink of water. The musher isn't much better, as he seems to have no interest whatsoever in keeping the pack from abusing the runt.
- Jerkass Ball: A mild case of this trope, and a rare one involving Charlie Brown. Beagles aren't ideal sled dogs, and the sled is clearly too heavy for Snoopy to pull, but Charlie Brown is anything but understanding here, just beginning to berate Snoopy and telling him horror stories on how working dogs live in the Arctic, which is of course what later leads to the titular nightmare. This isn't entirely out of character, since Charlie Brown has often expected Snoopy to act more like a regular dog, but he's usually not this much of a dick about it. (Of course, Snoopy then unleashes a Disproportionate Retribution on him; see above.)
- Let's Get Dangerous!: Snoopy, when he becomes... uh, broken, for a lack of better words.
- The Magic Poker Equation: Snoopy somehow gets into a poker game at the saloon, and draws five aces, which he proudly lays down. The (unseen) other players are not amused.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Charlie Brown's stories and Snoopy eating too much pizza both cause Snoopy to have his nightmare.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: This was how Snoopy was able to win the fight against the lead dog for the position of the Alpha Male.
- Onion Tears: Snoopy is briefly seen tearing up as he's putting onions on his pizza.
- Produce Pelting: Happens after Snoopy imitates a can-can dancer.
- Sanity Slippage: Snoopy throughout the whole dream as he gets starved and abused by the musher and other sled dogs.
- Shown Their Work: Zigzagged. According to the Peanuts Animation and Video page on this special, sled dogs are not usually the Angry Guard Dog archetype shown here. Most are quite friendly. Sled dogs however will howl at the moon like many other dogs.
- Sled Dogs Through the Snow: Charlie Brown tries to get Snoopy to pull his sled, only for the roles to get reversed. Later Snoopy has a nightmare where he is a sled dog in very harsh circumstances.
- Took a Level in Badass: Snoopy giving the lead dog what-for.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: Snoopy becomes as to the other sled dogs as they were to him.
- Triumphant Reprise: Of the "Overly Civilized Dog" song when Snoopy starts getting assertive over the other sled dogs.
- The Unintelligible: The musher, who only speaks in a deeper version of the Peanuts adult "waah-waah-waah" language.
- Variations on a Theme Song: The special opens with a slow, solo piano rendition of the familiar "Linus and Lucy" theme.