Appellate Judge Tom Becker finds true meaning in a bottle of Coke and some Dolly Madison cakes.
Our review of A Charlie Brown Christmas (Blu-Ray), published October 28th, 2009, is also available.
Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!
The finest of all animated holiday TV specials gets a spiffy new release.
When A Charlie Brown Christmas premiered on CBS in December of 1965, network expectations were low. The special just didn't give off that "holiday vibe." For a kids' special, it seemed woefully ill-constructed: The animation was simplistic, the story slow, it had a jazz score, much of the humor skewed adult, and its anti-commercialism message was far from welcome during the holiday shopping season. On top of that, the story climaxed not with a visit from Santa but with a character reciting a Bible verse. How would this play in primetime?
Quite well, as it turned out. A Charlie Brown Christmas was one of the highest-rated Christmas specials of all time, and remains one of the most beloved.
After debuting in 1950, Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts characters became increasingly popular. Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy, and the gang appealed not only to children but to adults as well, thanks to Schulz's sly insights on human nature.
Here, Schulz takes on the commercialization of Christmas. Poor old Charlie Brown is looking for some meaning in the holiday, but all he can find is greediness. The "holiday spirit" seems to be about getting presents and, in the case of his dog, winning prizes for gaudy holiday decorations. Lucy sums it up best: "We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It's run by a big Eastern syndicate, you know."
He gets the chance to direct the local Christmas play, but the holiday spirit seems to be lacking there, as well. When he and Linus go to pick out a tree to use in the show, he bypasses the colorful aluminum ones for a broken down, but real, tree. "Gee," says Linus, "do they still make wooden Christmas trees?"
Naturally, this doesn't go over well with the rest of the gang, making Charlie Brown feel even more disconnected from what is supposed to be the happiest time of the year. It takes Linus quoting from the Book of Luke to set things straight.
That scene, which has become such an iconic television moment, was—and really, still is—pretty controversial, and almost didn't make it to broadcast. A Charlie Brown Christmas aired two years after the Supreme Court decision banning prayer in public schools, a topic Schulz visited frequently in his strips. When Schulz decided that quoting from the Bible was the logical place for a Christmas special to go, he got some flack from his producer, Lee Mendelson, and animator Bill Melendez. The network wasn't keen on it either. Schulz's response: If we don't do it, who will?
A Charlie Brown Christmas has been released previously on home video, but this new release from Warner Bros. has been remastered, and it looks and sounds great. I doubt that A Charlie Brown Christmas has looked this good since it was first broadcast, and Vince Guaraldi's bouncy score sounds terrific on the cleaned up Dolby Mono track.
Like other Peanuts classics, A Charlie Brown Christmas has been paired with a more recent special. The good news is that It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown is a better-than-average offering featuring holiday-themed vignettes that seemed to have been taken from Schultz's strips. It's not on par with the main feature, but then, what is?
"A Christmas Miracle: The Making of A Charlie Brown Christmas" is a brief but wonderful look at the origins of the special. With interviews from Lee Mendelson, Schulz's widow, Jeanne, and Peanuts Historian Scott McGuire, and additional footage of Bill Melendez, who was also the voice of Snoopy (and who died in September 2008), this is a lovely little retrospective. Its use of Peanuts cartoon panels to highlight the interviews is charming.
Warner Bros. has released A Charlie Brown Christmas individually and as part of Peanuts Deluxe Holiday Collection, which also features special editions of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.
The year after it broadcast A Charlie Brown Christmas, CBS presented what is arguably the second finest of all animated holiday specials, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. A few years later, the network added quality live-action Christmas specials such as The Homecoming: A Christmas Story and The House Without a Christmas Tree to its roster, making CBS something of a go-to place for holiday viewing.
Warner Bros. would have had to have done some damage for me to find A Charlie Brown Christmas guilty. Fortunately, they've turned out a very good special edition.
Not guilty. Now, deck them halls.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown
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