I spent many an evening as a child watching the Peanuts gang in one of their famous holiday specials. I looked in my backyard for The Great Pumpkin at Halloween, and I often times decorated my very own Charlie Brown Christmas tree at Christmastime. Obviously, I was not alone in my enjoyment of these cartoons, as the very same shows are aired even now, during the appropriate time of year.
The popularity of these cartoons has not escaped the attention of the estate of Charles Schultz, either. In an attempt to…keep a good thing going, the Peanuts gang is back in an all new special, Lucy Must Be Traded, Charlie Brown. Often times, any effort to capture the magic of a classic in an all-new feature fails miserably, but thank goodness that is not the case here. This special is just as much fun as the originals were, complete with the determined spirit of underachieving Chuck, the cruel nature of loudmouth Lucy, and the mannish (dare I say homosexual?) tendencies of Marci.
There are in fact three different baseball-themed episodes on this disc, though two of them are billed as extras. I feel that calling these episodes special features is a bit of a cheat, however, so as far as I am concerned, I am considering this a three episode, baseball themed disc.
I will say, however, that the feature cartoon is by far the best one of the three. The writers chose to utilize many tried and true jokes from the past, making this a safe bet for comic entertainment. The second episode is a classic from 1968. While the quality of the audio and animation are not so great, the jokes and the story are fun, and an important piece of animation history.
The third episode, however, is just plain bad. This 1993 production appeared dated even when it was new, as the score strayed from the traditional jazz into an odd 1980’s synth-based backing track. What’s worse, the gang includes a black character which shows up just long enough to perform a horrible rap song about how the peanuts gang is going to beat the opposing team. This episode is simply dreadful, and the disc would have been better if it were not even included.
This unfortunate and embarrassing mistake aside, Lucy Must Be Traded, Charlie Brown is a great disc for kids and parents alike. It’s fun to see how the gang has evolved over the years, as animation technology advanced (and voice talent was repeatedly replaced). For me, this disc was an enjoyable little trip down memory lane.
As would be expected, the audio quality on this disc varies by episode. The new episode has the best soundtrack, as dialog comes through crisp and clear. Furthermore, the track has some nice low end that helps to fill out Frank Guaraldi’s wonderful score, while not overpowering the dialog. The Dolby Digital 2.0 track is a perfectly acceptable format for a title such as this one.
The second episode has much harsher sound effects, though the score still sounds nice. If the soundtrack to the first episode was on CD, this one would be on vinyl. The track is a bit dusty, but it has a warmth to it that is rarely heard on modern discs.
As luck would have it, the third episode has the most dynamic track of all when it comes to music. Unfortunately, this is also the one with the worst score. All things considered, the feature episode carries the best audio offering, hands down.
As goes the audio, so goes the video. Upon insertion of the disc, I was surprised to see such a clean transfer present on the first episode of the collection. I was prepared for the same quality as is present on the classic holiday episodes that run on the networks every year. Instead, I was treated to a picture that was more detailed than I have ever seen a Peanuts episode look, yet it still had the simple feel of the originals. This is much the same as the difference between the first season of South Park and the newer episodes. The overall feel is the same, but the quality is much improved.
The only problem that I had with the new style is that on one occasion, a digital zoom was utilized to break up a scene, instead of painting in a new angle. As a result, the zoom is blurry and a bit pixilated. Thankfully, this only happened the one time.
Both of the other episodes have some color problems, especially the 1968 episode. Not only are the hues not what they should be, but they are inconsistent from shot to shot. Animation is also much more basic on these episodes, although that doesn’t really bother me, since the episodes are so much older. The third episode also has a few blemishes on the negative, though it is nothing major.
As I said earlier, Paramount has two of the three episodes on this disc listed as extras, though I feel that doing so unfairly pads the number of extras on the disc. As a result, I am considering the three episodes all part of the feature. The only other extras on this disc are some trailers for a couple of animated features, and a commercial for various Nick Jr. products on DVD. Someday, I would love to see the inclusion of some “Making-Of…” footage for these cartoons, showing the animation process, as well as the recording of the voiceovers. Until then, it looks like it’s just going to be episode-only discs for the consumer.
The holiday episodes have a special place in my heart, because I have a nostalgic investment in them. These new episodes don’t carry that same weight with them, but they are still pretty good in their own right. Lost of jokes for kids, and a few for adults, ensure that this title will make its way into many homes in the future. In a time when many children’s cartoons are filled with material that parents often-times don’t approve of, it’s nice to see the non-threatening Peanuts gang is still showing up in new episodes on occasion.
Special Features List