Judge Dan Mancini has been kissed by a dog! He has dog germs! Get some hot water! Get some iodine!
Christmas goes to the dogs in this delightful holiday charmer!
I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown is a 41-minute (one hour during broadcast) animated Peanuts adventure that first aired in 2003. In it, Rerun Van Pelt—the 5-year-old younger brother of Lucy and Linus—wants only one thing for Christmas: a dog. Rerun asks Charlie Brown if he can test drive dog ownership by borrowing Snoopy, but the beagle is too busy fantasizing about being a World War I flying ace to humor the kid. Instead, Snoopy calls his brother Spike in from the desert to spend some time with Rerun. Meanwhile, Lucy spars with Schroeder over the limitations of children's pianos and whether or not Beethoven had a girlfriend, and Linus becomes exasperated with Sally Brown, who insists on referring to him as her "sweet baboo."
By the 1980s and '90s, the Peanuts animated television specials were a shadow of their former '60s and '70s glory. The nadir of the series was 1984's It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown, an excruciating homage to Flashdance that found Snoopy dancing like he'd never danced before. Being a child of the '70s, I checked out of the Peanuts animated universe around the time that they traded Vince Guaraldi's acoustic jazz scores for saccharine imitations of Toni Basil's "Mickey." I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown was the first of the specials made after Charles M. Schulz's death that I'd seen. I didn't have high hopes going in, but I was pleasantly surprised. The show works because directors Larry Leichliter and Bill Melendez agreed to honor Schulz's wishes that no Peanuts material be written by anyone else after his death. As a result, the script for I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown is cobbled together from Peanuts comic strips. It feels a bit choppy, but so do classics like A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. The repetitiveness of the setup-punchline rhythm is more than offset by the quality of the jokes and the overall texture of the show, which is pure Peanuts. Even the soundtrack is a throwback: jazzman David Benoit revisits Vince Guaraldi's music from the earliest specials, played on piano with simple precision and clarity.
If I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown has a glaring weakness it's that it offers up very little of Charlie Brown. Rerun is the star of the show; Lucy, Linus, Snoopy, and Spike are secondary characters; and ole Chuck gets little more than a cameo. Since the storyline is lifted directly from the comic, the absence of Charlie Brown doesn't render the show a pale imitation of the Peanuts, but it's nowhere near as satisfying as the classic specials that put Charlie Brown center stage. Despite the popularity of Snoopy and the indelibility of Linus and his blanket, Charles M. Schulz's greatest contribution to the funny pages is Charlie Brown. A round-headed everyman, and the most lovable of lovable losers, he is arguably the greatest character in the entire history of comic strips, a kid who lives every moment at the nexus between indefatigable aspirations and grave disappointment, full of humor and genuine pathos. I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown suffers for his absence.
This remastered Deluxe Edition of the show offers a spiffy new full frame transfer that is free of dirt and damage, and delivers bright colors, impressive detail, and nothing in the way of combing or other artifacts. Audio is a fine remastered Dolby stereo mix that delivers clean dialogue and enough dynamic range to present Benoit's music in terrific form.
In addition to the main feature, the disc contains "Sibling Rivalry: Growing Up Van Pelt" (11:09), a featurette about the making of the special as well as Rerun's history in the Peanuts strip. The best part of the piece is Schulz's widow talking about how Schulz continued to have deep misgivings about the character for years after introducing him in the strip (Rerun first appeared in 1972, but didn't blossom into a regular character until the 1980s), but felt he couldn't scrap him because Lucy and Linus were such major players in the Peanuts universe that they couldn't have a baby brother who just disappeared without comment.
The disc also offers a second special, 1986's Happy New Year, Charlie Brown. In it, Charlie Brown spends his Christmas vacation trying to plow through Tolstoy's War and Peace, while also tying himself in anxious knots over the prospect of asking the Little Red-Haired Girl to a New Year's Eve party. It's not nearly as abysmal as It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown, but it's not all that good.
I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown doesn't stand shoulder-to-shoulder with A Charlie Brown Christmas, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, or A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, but it's a solid later entry in the series that avoids contemporary pop culture references in favor of the comic strip's universal appeal.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Bonus Episode
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