Judge Erich Asperschlager spends his nights waiting for the Great Pumpkin Pie.
Our review of It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (Blu-Ray), published September 7th, 2010, is also available.
"There are three things I've learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin."
It's early September and time to get ready for Halloween—at least according to Walmart's candy aisle and the release of the new, remastered deluxe edition of the real Fall Classic: It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
I'm sure you've all seen The Great Pumpkin a million times, but just in case someone was out trick-or-treating the last time it was on, here's the scoop: It's Halloween night, and the round-headed Peanuts kids are preparing for an evening of candy collecting and apple bobbing. Everyone, that is, except Linus, who's once again trading free sweets for his annual vigil, awaiting the arrival of that most wondrous of gourds—the Great Pumpkin. You see, once a year, on Halloween, the Great Pumpkin rises from what he deems the most sincere pumpkin patch, flying through the night giving presents to all the girls and boys who believe in him. And Linus wants in on that action.
After the success of A Charlie Brown Christmas, CBS was looking for another hit, and asked the creative team behind that supreme holiday classic to give them one. But what story to tell? Peanuts creator Charles Schulz settled on a staple from his comic strip: Linus's unwavering belief in his version of Santa, the perennial no-show Great Pumpkin. With the help of many of the original animators, child actors, and composer Vince Guaraldi, he turned out another classic. The Great Pumpkin isn't quite as good as A Charlie Brown Christmas, but that's like saying da Vinci's "Virgin of the Rocks" isn't as good as his "Mona Lisa." Why exactly am I comparing Charlie Brown to Leonardo da Vinci? Childhood nostalgia? Maybe a little. But mostly because it's that good.
Bold letters on the bright orange slip cover tout this as being the "Remastered Deluxe Edition." I can't vouch for deluxe, but I can tell you this: The Great Pumpkin never looked so good. The colors pop, the picture is clean, and scratches are mercifully rare. Besides Guaraldi's iconic score (presented here in its original mono), these early Peanuts TV specials are most notable for their visual upgrades to a plain-looking comic strip—textured backgrounds and splashes of color that elevate The Great Pumpkin above standard kids' fare.
The one thing remastering can't improve is Schulz's subtly subversive humor. The Great Pumpkin has plenty of classic gags: Linus's shocked reaction when Lucy eviscerates their pumpkin ("You didn't tell me you were going to kill it!"), Sally questioning the legality of begging strangers for candy, Charlie Brown's bag-of-rocks Halloween haul. Modern brats might scoff at this stuff, but that's because they don't know any better.
The only weak part of the special—keeping it one step below the wall-to-wall brilliance of A Charlie Brown Christmas—is "flying ace" Snoopy's adventures behind enemy lines. I know a lot of people like the Red Baron stuff, but I never thought it fit. I still don't.
What if you already own The Great Pumpkin's out-of-print 2000 DVD release? Is there any reason to upgrade? Though the remastered picture is an definite step up from TV, it's tough recommending the full-price purchase of a 25-minute feature. Another 40-plus minutes of extras brings it closer to a value proposition, but when the longest of those is the later-year special It's Magic, Charlie Brown—replacing the original DVD's add-on You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown—the call isn't any easier to make.
The pairing of classic Peanuts TV specials with their sub-standard brethren has become commonplace in the last few years. Eager to fill an hour of network airtime, fan favorites like Christmas, Great Pumpkin, and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving get paired with stinkers like He's A Bully, Charlie Brown and Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales. It's not surprising to see the trend continue on DVD, but it does make buying Peanuts releases a crapshoot. 1981's It's Magic—in which Snoopy turns his master invisible—isn't the worst of the bunch. It's just so stylistically different from The Great Pumpkin that it pales in comparison.
The better reason to double dip is the 14-minute making-of featurette We Need a Blockbuster, Charlie Brown, which tells the story of how a CBS ultimatum resulted in the creation of a Halloween classic. It's full of great interviews and fascinating anecdotes (how, for example, they had to rush the actress who played Sally into a recording studio at midnight to finish her lines before she lost a loose tooth). I just wish it was longer.
The final bonus is an iTunes code to download two free songs from the soundtrack—Guaraldi's "Great Pumpkin Waltz" (featured prominently in the special) and "Oh, Good Grief" (an unrelated a cappella ditty sung by the child actors).
From the existential implications of Linus's disappointing dogma to the sheer silliness of kids running around in matching sheets, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is a true holiday classic. If you already own it on DVD, the shiny new package might not be enough reason to re-buy, but if you don't there's no better time to get in the Halloween spirit! Except maybe mid-October.
This truly is the sincerest pumpkin patch of all. Not Guilty!
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