Warner Bros. // 1965 // 75 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // October 6th, 2008
I almost wish there weren't a holiday season. I know nobody likes me. Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it? -- Charlie Brown
Because Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts comic strip and Bill Melendez's animated adaptations of same are basically indistinguishable in the minds of people of my generation and younger, it's easy to take Melendez's work for granted. In fact, the success with which Melendez added movement to Schulz's static character design yet stayed faithful to the alternately sweet and cynical tone of the strip is miraculous. There were probably a million ways to poorly adapt the Peanuts and few ways to do it correctly. Melendez found perfection (at least in his early outings).
Peanuts Deluxe Holiday Collection offers up newly remastered editions of the three most beloved of the Peanuts television specials:
* A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
The commercialization of Christmas has Charlie Brown depressed. He can't get into the spirit of the season. Having to direct a Christmas pageant and being sent on a quest for a Christmas tree only darkens his mood. In the end, it takes a few wise words from Linus to remind Charlie Brown of the true meaning of Christmas.
* It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)
Charlie Brown receives a bag full of rocks while trick-or-treating with Lucy and the rest of the gang. Linus and Sally Brown wait for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin, who purportedly visits the most sincere pumpkin patch, showering children with gifts. Snoopy has imaginary adventures while dressed up as a World War I flying ace.
* A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973)
Charlie Brown is forced into hosting a Thanksgiving dinner when Peppermint Patty invites herself and a bunch of friends to his house. Playing chefs, Snoopy and Woodstock provide a disappointing dinner of toast, popcorn, pretzels, and jelly beans.
Produced in 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas is the best of the holiday specials (Peanuts or otherwise) produced in the era before home video muted the thrill of anticipating the annual broadcast of holiday special programming on the three networks. Simply put, it's an audacious piece of children's entertainment. What other animated holiday special is as cynical and vicious? What other special lampoons the gauche excesses of consumerism? (And let's face it, Christmas television specials are a major component of that commercialization.) When Lucy Van Pelt sends Charlie Brown out to find a Christmas tree for their pageant, she suggests that he get "the biggest aluminum tree" he can find -- preferably a pink one. When Sally Brown writes to Santa Claus, she lets the jolly old fat man know that he's welcome to send her tens and twenties if it's easier for him. Everyone except Linus is brutally nasty to Charlie Brown, repeatedly calling him "stupid" or a "blockhead." It's no wonder the poor round-headed kid feels beat down by the season and his friends. The show's pièce de résistance, though, is an abrupt tonal turnaround in which Linus earnestly explains the true meaning of Christmas to Charlie Brown by reciting from the Gospel of Luke.
It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown hit the airwaves less than a year after the Christmas special and, according to the featurette included in this set, was a make-or-break production for Melendez and crew -- had it failed, there probably wouldn't have been additional specials. Like A Charlie Brown Christmas, it was a huge ratings success. While not as smart or incisive as the Christmas special, it does exceed its predecessor in terms of design. Backgrounds are often colorful and surreal; character movement is more dynamic. The Great Pumpkin offers the first animated excursion into Lucy's repeatedly double-crossing Charlie Brown by pulling a football away before he can kick it, as well as an extended sequence with Snoopy playing action hero as a World War I flying ace. In addition to those charms, Vince Guaraldi builds on his fine jazz score from A Charlie Brown Christmas, delivering a collection of piano- and flute-heavy tunes that are appropriately eerie while revisiting "Lucy and Linus," the signature tune from the first special. It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is every bit the classic that A Charlie Brown Christmas is.
Premiering on televisions seven years after the Halloween special, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving doesn't quite match the quality of the earlier classics. The animation and design is rock solid and the child voices actors are excellent (though not quite as charming as the original cast), but the story strays from Schulz's comic strip and suffers for it. The plotline, involving Peppermint Patty inviting herself and others to a Thanksgiving dinner Charlie Brown never intended to host in the first place, is appropriately absurd but lacks the intelligence and thematic weight seen in the earlier shows. The show does offer some humorous interaction between Snoopy and Woodstock, another round of Lucy punking Charlie Brown with the football, and the first instance of a trombone standing in for an adult's voice -- one of the most memorable conventions of the Peanuts' animated adventures.
These remastered editions of the three holiday specials look absolutely spectacular. I can't speak about the other two shows, but side-by-side comparison of the remastered version of A Charlie Brown Christmas with the DVD released back in 2000 reveals a huge improvement on both the audio and video fronts. Gone are the waffling colors and speckles of dirt and damage that plagued the earlier release. Audio is also cleaner and brighter (though still limited by the aged source). I imagine the other two shows are similarly improved. In any event, they don't look like shows that are three or four decades old. The transfers are stable and almost completely free of age-related dirt and damage. Colors are bright, solid, and consistent. Detail is excellent. Though the mono sources are limited, the audio restorations are equally impressive, presenting clean dialogue and music.
Producer Lee Mendelson, director Bill Melendez, Peanuts historian Scott McGuire, animation writer/historian Mark Evanier, Charles Schulz's widow Jeannie, and others offer their recollections of the production of the three specials in a trio of featurettes: A Christmas Miracle: The Making of A Charlie Brown Christmas (15:59), We Need a Blockbuster Charlie Brown! (13:57), and Popcorn and Jellybeans: Making a Thanksgiving Classic (12:27).
In addition to the three main features, the set contains three bonus specials:
* It's Magic, Charlie Brown (1981)
The Great Houndini (Snoopy) puts on a magic show. When Charlie Brown is volunteered for one of the tricks, he ends up invisible. He'll be doomed to walk the Earth as a lost soul if his beagle can't reverse the illusion.
* The Mayflower Voyagers (1988)
An episode from the eight-part This is America, Charlie Brown series of educational specials, The Mayflower Voyagers tells the story of the pilgrims' journey to the New World. The Peanuts star as the pilgrims.
* It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown (1992)
Charlie Brown wants to raise money to buy a present for his girlfriend, Peggy Jean, but he's a miserable failure selling Christmas wreaths door-to-door. Peppermint Patty and Marcy labor to finish their schoolwork before the holiday break. Linus is frustrated by Sally Brown's obsession with the commercial aspects of Christmas.
The bonus specials haven't been remastered but, because of their newer vintage, look and sound decent. Colors are solid and accurate on all three. It's Magic, Charlie Brown has plenty of nicks and dirt. The other two are nearly pristine. Audio on all three is solid, though the mix for It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown is a bit too soft.
The specials themselves are weak compared to the three classics that headline this box. Produced in the 1980s and '90s, they stray too far from Schulz's original work. The stories are contrived and the gags often fall flat. It's Magic, Charlie Brown is the best of the second-tier trio. Its story is pointless and absurd, but the quality of the animation and voice performances aren't much of a step down from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. The Mayflower Voyagers is not only boringly didactic and lacking in wit, its animation is shoddy. It stands apart from the other five specials in this set because of its cheap look and feel. It's Christmas Time Again, Charlie Brown comes off as a soulless rehash of the original Christmas special. The animation is solid and the voice performances are acceptable, but nothing feels original. Worst of all, David Benoit's interpretations of Vince Guaraldi's music drip with the snappy saxophone arrangements one associates with sleepy smooth jazz radio and elevator music.
The set also offers a number of musical supplements. A Charlie Brown Christmas is accompanied by a six-song sampler CD of music from the soundtrack to the special. It contains the following songs:
* "My Little Drum"
* "Linus and Lucy"
* "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing"
* "Christmas is Coming"
* "Für Elise"
Each disc also comes with an insert coupon for a discount on Peanuts-related music from Concord Music Group, as well as redemption codes for some free downloads at iTunes.
What more can I say? Peanuts Deluxe Holiday Collection offers a trio of holiday classics along with some decent extras. The transfers are so beautiful on these remastered editions that fans shouldn't think twice about upgrading.
Review content copyright © 2008 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 75 Minutes
Release Year: 1965
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Specials
* We Need a Blockbuster Charlie Brown!
* Popcorn and Jellybeans: Making a Thanksgiving Classic
* A Christmas Miracle: The Making of A Charlie Brown Christmas
* A Charlie Brown Christmas: Six Song Sampler
* IMDb: A Charlie Brown Christmas
* IMDb: It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
* IMDb: A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving