"Peanuts Deluxe Holiday Collection" Blu-rays: One Classic, One Great, and One Turkey
If the Peanuts animated specials are perennials on TV, it seems that Warner Brothers is intent on making them perennials on home video as well. To be sure, they deserve much credit for taking away the license to Peanuts from Paramount and pushing out wonderfully remastered editions of beloved specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, but with the Peanuts Deluxe Holiday Collection, we’re now up to the third time these specials (plus A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving) have been released on home video in less than 2 years: first on deluxe edition DVDs, then as part of the 1960′s and 1970′s collection sets, and now in Blu-ray combo packs.
I have little to add about A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown from my earlier reviews. They are easily the two best Peanuts animated specials made, mostly because they manage to be about much more than their ostensible subjects. Unfortunately, their high quality leaves A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving looking rather lacking. I have not watched the special in years, and while it’s entertaining enough, it’s heavy on schtick and light on the kind of meaning and resonance that is found in the other two specials. The bulk of the special is taken up by antics from Snoopy and Woodstock which have little to nothing to do with the ostensible holiday the special commemorates, The few moments that do tie in to the themes of the holiday feel thin and unsatisfying. It’s not the worst of the Peanuts specials by a long shot, but it definitely does not fare well against the other two specials packaged in the box.
If A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is found lacking in comparison to A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the bonus specials included on each of the 3 discs fare even worse. A Charlie Brown Christmas comes with It’s Christmastime Again, Charile Brown, which is a visible comedown from its more famous predecessor. It’s not much more than a handful of gags, and not even the best ones Peanuts had to offer. The only moment with any staying power is the moment when Sally demands that Linus explain the meaning of Christmas, only to cut him off with trivialities at every attempt. It’s hard not to notice that Linus even begins the same section of Luke he recited so memorably in A Charlie Brown Christmas, only to be completely ignored by Sally. Perhaps a pungent commentary from Schulz on how he felt the message of A Charlie Brown Christmas was received? It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown comes with It’s Magic, Charlie Brown, easily the worst of the bonus episodes thanks to an inconsistent tone and the way it so casually breaks so many of the Peanuts ground rules. It’s mildly amusing at best. Ironically, the bonus feature with A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is probably the best of the bunch, even if The Mayflower Voyagers strikes a slightly odd note by having the Peanuts gang re-enact the Mayflower’s Atlantic crossing and their struggle for survival in the New World. It’s a little weird to see these famed cartoon characters in genuine bodily peril, and even stranger to hear them quip so light-heartedly while it’s happening. Still, even if the special provides only the most superficial treatment of history, it still has a lot more to do with the holiday than A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving does.
Peanuts went to the Christmas well again with Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales, released in 2002 (two years after Charles Schulz’s passing) and mostly collecting material from a bunch of the comic strips. For some reason, I found this special to be more palatable and amusing than It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown, perhaps because it abandons any pretenses of being deep and just focuses on what made the Peanuts comic strip entertaining in the first place. Even better is the bonus episode on the disc, Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown?, which re-creates a story from the comic strip that originally ran almost 20 years earlier than this special’s 1983 air date. This might explain the unexpected emotional poignancy as Linus and Lucy’s father takes a job in a new town and the pair must say their goodbyes to the gang. Each member of the Peanuts cast takes the news in their own way, and the humor is leavened by familiar sharp pangs of separation which are no less keenly felt even after it’s all undone by the end of the episode.
The Blu-rays in the Deluxe Holiday Collection package are the same Blu-rays released individually last year, faithfully duplicating the contents of the previous deluxe edition DVD releases. All the specials are presented full-frame, with mostly under-used 5.1 soundtracks in Dolby Digital (A Charlie Brown Christmas) or DTS-HD MA (the other two). A brief “making of” featurette rounds out each disc’s special features. These documentaries are fairly informative, with commentary by producers, historians, Schulz’s widow Jean and son Monte, and a handful of the voice actors who played the kids. The Christmas documentary even trots out one of the CBS executives who was certain that A Charlie Brown Christmas was going to be a flop. He takes his terrible predictive abilities with good humor. No new documentary material has been added for their Blu-ray releases. They’re all interesting and worthwhile, but also quite short and relatively shallow. At the very least, we do learn that Lee Mendelson was and still is weirded out by the sight of Woodstock chowing down on Thanksgiving turkey at the end of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and the special even notes that Schulz came around to this line of thinking eventually. Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales is full-frame with a mono soundtrack and comes with no bonus features at all.
The question on most fans’ minds is whether the Blu-ray re-releases warrant a re-purchase, considering that the hardcore Peanuts fan may have purchased this material twice before already. My feelings on this are mixed. The good news is that the Blu-rays for A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown are visibly improved from the DVD releases, with brighter colors and a slightly sharper image. A Charlie Brown Christmas‘s palette is still somewhat soft, but that’s probably the way the special always looked. Unfortunately, the high-definition remastering of both of these Blu-rays reveals perhaps a bit too much. Like Disney’s Snow White Diamond Edition, there’s a bit too much visual distinction between the cel-animated characters and the static backgrounds, and moments where you can make out shadows cast by the cels on their background. I’m torn whether this is a good thing or not. On the one hand, it does illustrate the process of animation and is the kind of visual quirk that is only possible on something truly hand-made. On the other hand, it is extremely distracting. This effect of the high-definition remastering is also visible on It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown and The Mayflower Voyages. Oddly enough, it’s not visible on A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, which is the one special that looks barely distinguishable from its DVD presentation.
In the end, I think these packages are no-brainers if you haven’t purchased A Charlie Brown Christmas or It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown before and have the high-definition hardware to enjoy them. The pricing on the set means that you might as well pick it up if you have even if you just want those two specials and a vague interest in the Thanksgiving special; like Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales, the bonus episode is probably better than the headliner. Unfortunately, if you’ve already bought these specials on DVD, I don’t think the Blu-ray editions add enough to make a double- or triple-dip worthwhile. With no new material and the visual quirks of the remastering, I just don’t think that fans will really get enough out of the new releases.