I grew up on the Peanuts creations of Charles M. Schulz. Most of us have, in some way or another. His newspaper comic strip is one of the longest running and most successful strips of all time. The work has been translated into every language currently spoken on the planet. The images of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, and the rest of the Peanuts gang have appeared on just about any kind of product imaginable. Our pop culture contains too many references to the strip to mention briefly. For me, it was the television specials starting in the mid 1960’s that brought the gang into my life. The classics are running annually, still after nearly 50 years. A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown are the most mentioned and certainly beloved by generations of children and adults. I thought I never missed an airing.
Now Warner Home Video has brought together a special collection of the cartoon specials that started it all. It includes those annual greats and a few that I don’t really remember so much. The two discs include the following Peanuts specials:
A Charlie Brown Christmas: This is one of the most endearing and enduring of the franchise. It’s loaded with memories too many to mention them all here. Charlie Brown tries to direct the school nativity play. He finds it hard to get the gang’s cooperation. In his own despair he discovers the true meaning of Christmas. Some of those memorable moments that I will never forget include: The scrawny little tree that Charlie Brown picks out, held up by Linus’s blanket. Snoopy wins first prize in a house light decoration competition. Of course the best of the best comes in the end when Linus recites the story of the birth of Christ. Today most people would be shocked to see a public school putting on a nativity play. Watching this one is a sad reminder of how much these basic principles have been swept away by intolerance and misrepresentation of “Jefferson’s Wall”, that First Amendment separation of church and state. This short, more than the others, is truly a product of its time. It depicts an America that no longer exists.
Charlie Brown All-Stars: This is one of those I honestly never saw before. Charlie Brown drops a crucial out in a big game, so what else is new? Now his teammates blame him for their unending losing streak and don’t want him on the team anymore. The theme here is friendship, and, of course, it wins out in the end.
It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: This has to be an all time favorite and likely the most popular. Linus tells the gang of the story of The Great Pumpkin who rises from the pumpkin patch on Halloween Night to give candy to the boys and the girls. No one actually believes him. Still Charlie Brown stays with Linus as he stands vigil over the patch to catch a glimpse of The Great Pumpkin. It’s a heartwarming story with plenty more of those classic Charlie Brown moments. If you’ve never seen this special, you must have been living in a coma for the last 50 years. Buy the set, if only for this one.
You’re In Love, Charlie Brown: It’s that elusive red haired girl, and Charlie Brown can’t stop thinking about her. Charlie is about as sad as he’s ever been, and that’s saying something. Will he ever get the courage to tell the red haired girl how he feels?
He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown: Snoopy’s driving the neighborhood crazy and they want Charlie Brown to do something about it. That means back to The Daisy Hill Puppy Farm for everyone’s favorite flying ace beagle, and obedience school. But along the way to the farm Charlie Brown discovers just how much he loves Snoopy, just the way that he is.
It Was A Short Summer, Charlie Brown: This is another I hadn’t seen, and it was by far the weakest of the series. The gang’s given a school assignment to write about “What I Did On My Summer Vacation”. Good grief.
For the most part this is a solid collection. There are others I remember fondly, such as the Thanksgiving Special, but that was 1973 and so not included here. I believe it belonged anyway, because it was a huge part of this original series of cartoons. I suspect a 1970’s collection is on the way, so don’t lose heart.
All of these specials are presented in the original full frame broadcast aspect ratio. The colors are actually pretty good here. I was overall impressed with the brightness and richness of the colors. Unfortunately, there were some significant print defects. You’ll find more than the occasional scratch or dirt speck. There is some variance between the episodes. There is considerable restoration here, and these look about as good as they likely ever will. Black levels are fine.
The Dolby Digital Mono track does exactly what it was originally intended to do. It delivers dialog and some mid-range music. Nothing to write home about, but nothing to distract. I think you’ll be somewhat disappointed here as the music often carries with it some unpleasant distortion.
Vince Guaraldi – The Maestro Of Menlo Park: This over half hour feature is a wonderful tribute to the man who created that memorable piano music for the Peanuts universe. It’s hosted by the franchise’s long time producer, Lee Mendelson. You’ll hear from a lot of folks who share their memories of the talented composer. Well deserved feature, indeed.
They say you can’t go home again, and more times than not, I’ve found that to be quite true. There are some notable exceptions, however. The Peanuts specials are certainly that. It seems that no matter how old I am these features make me feel like a kid again. It’s one of those rare moments when you really can capture the spirit of the moment, even if that moment was originally felt in an 8 year old kid, 40 years ago. If you have been known to experience the same thing when you encounter one of these classics, then “behold, for I bring you tidings of great joy”.