iPad Interactive Book Review: It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown Review
Published by Loud Crow Interactive, Inc.
Reviewed by Guy Dayen
Following up on last year's "A Charlie Brown Christmas", Loud Crow Interactive brings a second Peanuts animated holiday classic to the iPad and iPhone. This time, it's the beloved Halloween special: "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown", which was the third animated special created for the Peanuts gang, in 1966. The format is the same as the first book: the animated special is distilled down to the major scenes, and dialogue excerpts from the animated show are used in the telling of the story. As in the first adaptation, the narration is provided by a grown-up Peter Robbins, the child actor who provided the voice of Charlie Brown in the early specials.
The graphics are beautiful, and very faithful to the show, as well as to previous book adaptations that were produced in the sixties and seventies. As a life-long fan of Peanuts and Charles Schulz, I'm thrilled that these lovely stories are available to a brand new generation in this format. While nothing can replace the experience of sitting in the glow of the TV screen and watching these delightful shows with family while munching on a snack or two, this app provides a wonderful way to relive those happy times. One thing fans of the show will find missing is the entire WWI flying ace sequence starring Snoopy. While some may cry foul that something's been left out, I don't mind at all. Those scenes with Snoopy fighting it out with the Red Baron and then sneaking around behind enemy lines always felt out of place and unnecessary to me - that was always the moment in the show when I'd get up and take a break if I needed one. Looking on it as an adult, I think they somehow felt the story needed padding, and this is what they came up with... Frankly, this is truly one instance in which less is more!
The graphics are excellent, as I've said. The page turn animation gives the feeling of turning pages in a pop-up book, and the use of tabs on each page to have the child reading the story make the action progress at his or her own pace is a great technique. More books should make use of this wonderful interactive feature. Other interactive features include "carving your own pumpkin and lighting it, and seeing it appear on the bookplate page, catching leaves as they fall on the page, making candy fly into the bags of the Peanuts gang, and squashing pumpkins in the pumpkin patch.
Another nice touch is the addition of a new character to the story: the reader himself or herself. At the beginning of the book, the child can create a character and dress it up in a wide variety of costumes. That character stands in for the child, and appears at a few key points in the story. It's very fun, but it also brings up a major disappointment and a big point of contention for me. More on that later.
Narration, as I've indicated, is provided by Peter Robbins. He does a marvelous job of bringing the story to life. It seems absolutely fitting that the little boy who breathed life into Charlie Brown for all of us who were children (and adults, for that matter...) in the mid-sixties should come back now, forty-five years later, to retell that wonderful story. As with most interactive books these days, children can tap on each word to hear it over and again if they wish. I think it's a great way to sharpen those early reading skills.
The music, by the great and lamented Vince Guaraldi, who left us at the very young age of 47, is also present here, playing throughout. Not having it would be inconceivable, so I'm very glad to hear it playing as the story unfolds. That music served as my first introduction to jazz, and almost fifty years after it was written, I still feel it's one of the best television soundtrack ever created. Certainly, as far as music for a children's show, it has never been equaled. The little ones will be humming the tunes the will have the pleasure of hearing for the first time, and the parents will no doubt feel a twinge of nostalgia as soon as the first notes begin to play.
All in all, this is an top-notch adaptation of the Great Pumpkin special. I think Loud Crow does a fantastic job with these interactive books, and I'm hoping more are planned in the future. I'd love to see "Charlie Brown's All-Stars" (the second special ever created, and which is rarely shown on TV) and "A Boy Named Charlie Brown" (the first full-length Peanuts film ever made, transformed into follow-up books.
However, I do have a major beef with the publishers of this book: the inclusion of in-app purchases. Really??? I think Charles Schulz would have been appalled at this. Essentially, this ties in to the Halloween costume mini-game at the beginning of the book. As I said, you can have your child create a character and then dress it up in a Halloween costume. Unfortunately, there are very few costume options included in the purchase price of the app. The rest have to be purchased with candy or coins. I have no problem whatsoever with the candy angle. Candy is awarded for reading the book and interacting with it as the child reads. I think it's a great way to encourage play and repeated reading.
Sadly, the costumes available for purchase with candy, as well as the free costumes, are the least appealing and the least intricate. For the really good stuff, you need coins. You get ten with the app, but that's it. Anything else, you have to buy. Prices vary from a dollar for a 10-coin pack to thirty dollars for a 1000-coin pack! Thirty dollars? Who are they kidding??? After all, you're just getting a few additional drawings, for God's sake. It's simply ridiculous! I would've been perfectly happy to spend another couple of dollars for a separate app, and even a dollar in-app to unlock all the costumes. But this new trend of nickel-and-diming people playing freemium games is bad enough; it has absolutely no place in children's books. What's a parent to say when their child wants one (or more) of the costumes that cost twenty, fifty or more coins? This crass business model puts them in uncomfortable and unnecessary circumstances. I'd applaud an update that would get rid of this sad attempt at making money on the back of one of our dearest cultural treasures!
Sorry to be so emphatic about it, but I found this aspect of "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" very distasteful. The rest of the app is truly magical, but as a parent, I'd skip the whole character/costume mini-game just on principle alone. Sit down and read this terrific story with your kids, and save the money to buy them an actual costume. They'll have a lot more fun and get a lot more use out of the real thing!
Come on, Loud Crow, channel your inner "Peanutsness", and do everything right next around. The first Peanuts book you released proved you can do it!