Judge Mike Rubino would never buy brownies from Peppermint Patty. Just sayin'.
Charlie Brown: "For one brief moment victory was within our grasp."
A bunch of cynical, neurotic, and downright acrimonious children that hang around a silent, day-dreaming pup have somehow wormed their way into the timeless cockles of the American Pop Culture Heart. By the 1960s, the Peanuts comic strip, created by Charles M. Schulz, was pretty darn popular. It was producer/director Bill Melendez, however, who took that modest newspaper strip and turned it into the glorious animated franchise that we know and love today. He had some help of course, including a great cast of voice actors and the incomparable bossa nova stylings of Vince Guaraldi.
By now, if you're a fan of Peanuts, you probably own a least a couple of these animated specials on DVD. Paramount has been releasing them in various collections and editions over the past decade. Personally, I've always been satisfied catching the annual airings of these great 'toons on network television—but if I were to recommend a version worth purchasing, it would be this one.
The Peanuts: 1960s Collection packs the first original six Peanuts TV specials, in chronological order, across two discs. It doesn't break them down into a special holiday pack, or dedicate an entire disc to one 24-minute episode—it just treats them as if they were a regular animated series. Why did this take so long to come out?
The episodes included in the set are: A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), Charlie Brown's All-Stars (1966), It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966), You're in Love, Charlie Brown (1967), He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown (1968), and It was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown (1969). This is the first time that He's Your Dog and It was a Short Summer have been released on DVD.
What strikes me about the holiday specials is that they are supremely enjoyable outside the confines of their appropriate seasons. Charlie Brown Christmas is certainly the best of the bunch, both for its incredible writing and its groundbreaking score. The animation may be cheap, but the character design and art direction are top-notch. These first six specials strike a perfect balance between children's tomfoolery and adult cynicism.
The two newcomers to DVD may not have the impact of the Christmas or baseball specials, but they're good in their own right. He's Your Dog focuses on Snoopy spending time doing chores at Peppermint Patty's house (he was supposed to go to puppy school, but wound up here instead). Thanks to Snoop's stoic nature and clumsy housekeeping skills, the special features a lot like an animated Buster Keaton film. Naturally, it isn't until Charlie Brown sends Snoopy away that everyone realizes how great he is.
It was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown is another classic, as the Peanuts gang go away to summer camp. The boys and girls split into their respective camps, and proceed to face each other in a series of sporting events. Thanks to Charlie Brown's terribly optimistic, yet horribly inept, leadership, the girls win every time. Their last hope is to challenge the girls to an arm wrestling match against the boys' secret weapon: Snoopy. As usual, the episode is filled with plenty of sharp wit—my favorite scene is when the girls start chanting the long list of sports that Charlie Brown lost at. Kids can be so cruel.
If you've only seen these 'toons when they aired on television, then you are certainly doing your eyes a disservice. This latest release features all six specials fully re-mastered. The animation, crude as it may be at times, has never looked cleaner or brighter. The colors and lines are as crisp as can be, and there is hardly any sign of age or dust. It's quite impressive. Sadly, the audio seems to suffer a bit. Everything sounds great, don't get me wrong, but I found the entire DVD to be entirely too quiet. This was easily solved, of course, by cranking up the volume on my TV, but I shouldn't have to do that—even the lone special feature on the set was quiet.
Accompanying these six episodes is a 35-minute documentary about the show's biggest non-animated star: Vince Guaraldi. This jazz legend, with his absurd handle-bar mustache and unique piano-tickling, infused these cartoons with a light, improvisational score that would almost become more popular than the shows themselves. The documentary covers Guaraldi's career, and features interviews with plenty of his former band-mates and musicians. It's a very entertaining, well-made documentary—sadly, it's the only special feature in the entire set.
If you don't already own these classic Peanuts specials, or you aren't exactly thrilled at buying each one individually, this is certainly the way to go. The video quality is superb, and the humor and insight found in each special is timeless. One would assume Warner Bros.—who recently acquired the rights to all the Peanuts cartoons from Paramount—plans on releasing future "decades" collections. If that's the case, then we're in for some very good grief.
Not guilty, Charlie Brown!
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