We all know what a classic A Charlie Brown Christmas still is. It’s a fact of life that when you have a hit there is a tendency to continue to reach for that lightning in a bottle over and over again. That is certainly the case with the Peanuts specials. The results have been mixed, and while I won’t say that these recent specials aren’t quality stuff, I doubt there is anyone out there who believes that the same quality of heart and charm has existed in the series since the 1970’s. When Charles Schulz died, it was agreed that no new material was to be allowed with these characters. Every special since that time has had to use dialog and stories already published in the cartoon strips. Now, that’s not as limiting as you might think when you consider the strip ran for bout 50 years. That leaves a lot of untapped material out there to keep the specials running, and run on they do.
I Want A Dog For Christmas is a unique episode in that it does not really center much on the main Peanuts gang. Charlie Brown himself is reduced to a background character here. The star of this show is Rerun. The character was added as a baby brother to Linus and Lucy back on Mother’s Day in 1972. His exposure in the shorts has been limited, to say the least. So, it is actually refreshing to have the character carry the load for this 2003 effort.
Rerun is feeling a bit neglected at Christmas time. His brother doesn’t pay him any attention, and his sister is just downright mean to him. When he notices the relationship between Charlie Brown and Snoopy, he decides that happiness is indeed a warm puppy. With no money to buy a dog and a mother who doesn’t want him to have one, Rerun’s quest for a furry friend appears doomed. That is until Snoopy gets a letter from his desert brother Spike, saying that he’s coming to visit for the holidays. Rerun decides that he’ll adopt Spike, and he’ll finally have a faithful companion of his own. Of course, the best laid plans of beagles and children don’t always work out the way one expects.
The special is actually charming enough, but the filmmakers made the mistake of expanding it to the hour format. It ends up off track often in an attempt to fill space. It takes almost half of the show before Rerun and Spike even get together. There’s too much setup time broken up by the scenes of Rerun on the back of his mom’s bike, which had become a popular occasional arc in the Peanuts strip. I know the original kids have grown, but Linus just doesn’t sound like Linus these days. It appears there has been little effort to try and match the characters with like voices. The bright spot here is that producer Melendez has always been the uncredited voice of Snoopy. Therein lies the best we can hope for in vocal continuity.
The special is presented in it’s originally intended full frame broadcast format. The picture looks pretty much as it did on television. It’s a more recent special, so there isn’t the print damage that these shows often have. Colors aren’t exactly bright, but they do translate well enough here. There isn’t any compression trouble, and black levels are fair.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 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.
Happy New Year, Charlie Brown: This 1986 special has the gang all getting ready for a big New Year’s Eve party. Charlie Brown has to read War and Peace for a book report and find time to get to his date with the Red Haired Girl.
Sibling Rivalry – Growing Up Van Pelt: (11:08) Schulz’s wife and others talk about the Rerun character. See how he was first introduced. Then it’s an all you want to know Rerun fest.
It’s an average effort for these Peanuts specials. There just doesn’t appear to be a lot going on. The extended time leaves us with a lot of Rerunisms. He goes on and on exclaiming his points of view about life. It’s fun for a while, but before long you get the idea that with this Peanuts cartoon “There’s a whole lot of slam and not enough dunk”.