The last thing I'd do is suggest that "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" isn't a fine family film. However, this Blu-ray disc release of the television special does prompt a couple of questions. For one thing, the studio has already issued the cartoon twice before on DVD, the earlier edition now going for a couple of bucks new on some Web sites and the remastered edition going for under ten dollars. Given that "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" is only twenty-five minutes long and the BD lists for $24.98, that makes its cost about a dollar a minute. For another thing, because the film's animation style is pretty simple, the DVD picture quality is already more than up to the job, so Blu-ray may be something of an overkill. Fortunately, the folks at Warners sweeten the pot by including a second feature, "The Mayflower Voyagers," along with an informative featurette, plus a regular DVD of the two cartoons. Still, it's kind of an expensive proposition.
Anyway, as I've mentioned before, cartoonist Charles M. Schultz debuted his "Peanuts" comic strip in 1950, and by 1965 the strip had become so popular that it spawned the first of a long series of TV specials, "A Charlie Brown Christmas," followed in 1967 by the musical stage play "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." When Schultz died in 2000, a clause in his contract stipulated that the strip would end with his death, and his final original strip appeared on the day of his passing.
Today, we tend to take "Peanuts" for granted as an American institution, even though no new strips have appeared in almost a decade. We continue to get "Peanuts" TV and video specials (according to IMDb, there have been over fifty of them so far), and the characters are so instantly recognizable by practically everyone in America and the Western world, we find them in various commercials, like those for MetLife. It's purely an American phenomenon, I suppose, kept alive by the "Peanuts" television shows maintaining the same level of honest, simple purity that characterized Schultz's strips. And it helped that Schultz himself wrote the scripts for most of the TV shows.
"A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" first appeared on television in 1973, and it was an honest attempt to duplicate the success the "Peanuts" team had with earlier specials like "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." If it's not quite in their league, well, it wasn't because writer Charles Schultz or directors Bill Melendez and Phil Roman weren't trying.
The show begins with poor-soul Charlie Brown (voiced by Todd Barbee) again getting tricked by spiteful Lucy (Robin Kohn), her pulling away a football she insists Charlie Brown kick to open the annual Thanksgiving Day football game, with Charlie Brown missing it and falling on his rear. He falls for it every time. Then Sally calls him, inviting herself and two friends over for Thanksgiving dinner. Unfortunately, Charlie Brown is going to his grandmother's house for dinner, but he can't say no to anyone. So he's stuck until he decides to have two Thanksgiving dinners, one early for his friends and the other at his grandmother's.
The next problem: All Charlie Brown knows how to fix for food is toast and cereal. He decides to go with toast and enlists Snoopy and Woodstock to help him prepare it. Snoopy fixes not only a ton of toast but jellybeans, pretzels, and popcorn, too. Naturally, Patty gets ticked because it's not a proper Thanksgiving dinner.
OK, that's all pretty much expected from a "Peanuts" cartoon. What we also get we also expect: a sweet ending and a timely message. And Patty's constantly chasing after Charlie Brown. I was never a big "Peanuts" fan, not of the comic strip or the television specials, but I admit they can be touching and they go down easily enough.
In addition to the main show, the Blu-ray disc includes the 1988 TV "Peanuts" special "Mayflower Voyagers." This one is more problematic because it tries to do a lot more than most previous "Peanuts" cartoons. It attempts to be a twenty-five-minute history lesson on the coming of the Pilgrims to America, with the "Peanuts" gang aboard. Not that history can't be interesting, but unlike most of the "Peanuts" shows, which can be entertaining for adults as well as children, this one seems more obviously aimed directly at kids.
"Mayflower Voyagers" begins in 1620 as 102 men, women, and children (and one dog and a bird) depart from Plymouth, England, for the East Coast of America. Charlie Brown and the gang are among the children involved. Sixty-five days later they arrive in America and after about a month or two of exploration they found a new Plymouth in today's Massachusetts. The story covers the hardships and eventual good fortune of the Pilgrims and their fortuitous interaction with the country's Native Americans, culminating in the first Thanksgiving dinner.
I wish I could say it was more fun, but there's just no way even the "Peanuts" gang can change history or spice it up, nor is there any way the producers can portray the real adversities endured by the actual settlers in a children's cartoon.
Warner video engineers transferred both of the TV specials to Blu-ray disc in the shows' original aspect ratios of 1.37:1 using a VC-1 codec and on a single-layer BD25. They retained the natural print grain of the shows as well as a degree of noise and age wear: minor ticks, specks, and spots. The fact is, the results don't look worth the Blu-ray trouble. Colors in "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" are not as vivid or bright as they are in the later "Mayflower Voyagers," nor is the picture quality in either film particularly sharp. Still, the simple line drawings show up well enough, and they are an improvement over the standard-definition transfers on the accompanying DVD.
The keep case labels the sound as transferred to disc in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, but for all intents and purposes, it might as well be mono. It is very center-bound, soft, and warm, with only the music very slightly widening the stereo stage. On "Mayflower Voyagers" the sound is tad cleaner than on "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving," but neither soundtrack is particularly impressive sonically.
The two primary bonuses here are that (1) you get both the Blu-ray disc of the features and a DVD in the combo pack, and (2) you get the second feature, "The Mayflower Voyagers." Beyond that, you also get a twelve-minute featurette, "Popcorn & Jellybeans: Making a Thanksgiving Classic," in which the cast and filmmakers of "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" tell us about their experiences creating the film. English is the only spoken language offered, with French subtitles and English captions for the hearing impaired.
"A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" is pleasant enough and clearly in the "Peanuts" tradition. However, it doesn't quite match the sentiment or poignancy of the Christmas or Halloween specials. If you already own the show on DVD, I'm not sure it's worth paying for a Blu-ray disc, unless, of course, you are a dedicated "Peanuts" fan, in which case you'll want the show in its best possible format.