There comes a time in life when one feels too cool for the Peanuts. Thankfully, it passes quickly and never returns. When faux sophistication and distain for simplicity gives way to a better understanding of the world, the sad, funny wisdom of Charles Schultz always seems to shine a little brighter. Many of us were introduced to his characters through one of the innumerable holiday specials which have aired annually since Lyndon Johnson was in the White House. Warner Bros has collected three of the best–A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown–into a classy new Blu-ray gift set for the holidays. All three have been kicking around in a number of formats for the last few years, and while this version has nothing new that demands a repeat buy, it makes for solid coverage of the basics for those who haven’t yet taken the plunge. Hit the jump for my full review.
Of the three, A Charlie Brown Christmas is actually the weakest. Though it features a number of classic moments–the pathetic little tree that Charlie Brown buys for the pageant, Linus’s speech about the meaning of Christmas, the formal introduction of Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy” theme–its fragmented narrative keeps its various notions from gelling. The causes for that are explained in one of three brief featurettes–a big part of this set’s appeal–which includes interviews from prominent creative types like Guaraldi and director Bill Melendez, as well as Schultz’s widow. A Charlie Brown Christmas was the very first Peanuts special, and the production team had only a few short months to assemble it. Subsequent fcartoons benefited immeasurably from the lessons they learned.
The middle film in the series, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving reflects that increasing poise and confidence. The narrative thrust is much sharper–involving Peppermint Pattie’s overreaching arrival at “Chuck’s” place for the holiday–and includes a number of fun gags featuring Snoopy and his little friend Woodstock. It also opens with the single most important element of the Peanuts mythos: Charlie Brown’s futile attempt to kick that darn football. Similar iconic moments are scattered throughout the set–from Lucy’s merciless flirtation with Schroeder to Snoopy’s eternal battle against the Red Baron–providing a succinct summation of the characters’ greatest hits. (The only things missing is the kite-eating tree.)
Speaking of hits, Schultz and Company hit an all-time high with the third entry in the collection, It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. From the ghost costume full of holes (and seriously, what the hell kind of grown up hands out rocks on Halloween?!) to Linus’s fruitless vigil for the title figure, it finds the perfect mixture of dogged hope and eternal disappointment that Schultz’s creations so admirably embodied. As the creators pointed out in the featurette, it also give Linus some much needed foibles: his very human delusions about the Great Pumpkin lend a dose of humility to his otherwise omnipresent wisdom.
The shows themselves have been digitally remastered for Blu-ray and the hand-drawn animation looks as charming as ever. That said, the new set offers littler that the previous DVD special edition didn’t. Though extremely enlightening, the featurettes only run about fifteen minutes apiece, and while a trio of additional Charlie Brown specials are included (each thematically keyed to correspond to the respective holidays), they don’t match the charm of the top-billed episodes. Each special also includes a DVD version as well as the Blu-ray, but a few more bells and whistles might have justified the price a little better. As it is, finding a bargain at Amazon or the like might prove the best option. These shows are perennials for a reason–they haven’t aged a day–and this collection makes a handy way to nab the cream of the crop in one fell swoop. It’s a marvelous holiday meal… provided you don’t expect many trimmings with your turkey.