Cartoonist Charles M. Schultz debuted his comic strip "Peanuts" 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 over a decade. We continue to get "Peanuts" TV and video specials (according to IMDb, there have been over sixty 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 a purely American phenomenon, I suppose, kept alive by the "Peanuts" television shows maintaining the same level of honest, simple purity that characterized Schultz's strips. It helped that Schultz himself wrote the scripts for most of the early TV shows. What we get on this Blu-ray disc are two television specials, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" and a bonus feature, "It's Magic, Charlie Brown."
The highlight of the disc is the 1966 TV special "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." Here, we find Linus differing in his opinion with everybody else about the existence of the Great Pumpkin. Linus believes that the Great Pumpkin will come on Halloween night and bring him presents, so he sits in the pumpkin patch most of the night waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive, while his friends tell him the Great Pumpkin is a fake.
Interestingly, Charlie Brown takes a back seat to Linus in this episode, while Snoopy has an extended sequence as the famous World War I flying ace, forever battling the Red Baron. As usual, Snoopy steals the show. While "The Great Pumpkin" hasn't quite the enchantment or sentiment of the very first "Peanuts" special, it tends to make up for any such shortcomings with its greater variety. And it's got that sweet message of sticking to your beliefs.
Bill Melendez directed "It's the Great Pumpkin," with Peter Robbins voicing Charlie Brown, director Melendez doing Snoopy, Sally Dryer as Lucy, Christopher Shea as Linus, and Cathy Steinberg as Sally.
In addition to the feature film, the disc includes a second "Peanuts" TV special, "It's Magic, Charlie Brown" from 1981. The unusual thing about this special is that Bill Melendez didn't direct it, Phil Roman did, which is OK because his association with the TV specials went all the way back to 1973, and he directed a number of them. Although Bill Melendez still voices Snoopy, we get Michael Mandy as Charlie Brown, Brent Hauer as Peppermint Patty, Cindi Reilly as Sally, Sydney Penny as Lucy, and Rocky Reilly as Linus.
In this one, Snoopy checks out a book on magic from the library and practices a few magic tricks on Woodstock. Encouraged, Snoopy decides to entertain all the children, "with a stage and everything." The first half of the show has Snoopy performing magic tricks for the kids. Finally, Charlie Brown gets his chance as a volunteer from the audience, where Snoopy promptly makes him disappear. The trouble is, Snoopy can't make him reappear. So, poor soul Charlie Brown has to go for a while completely invisible. Since Charlie has always been practically invisible to most of the people around him, anyway, it makes little matter. Except to him.
Because WB made both of the TV specials on this disc before the advent of widescreen televisions, they come in a standard 1.37:1 ratio, transferred in high definition to a single-layer BD25 using a VC-1 codec. The video engineers retain the natural print grain of both shows, some of it appearing rather obvious and even a little distracting. Combine the grain with a modicum of noise and age marks, and one has to conclude that the picture is far from pristine. Still, it's not objectionable, and the deep, rich, bright colors more than make up for any of the minor inadequacies of the original prints.
The only serious question is whether a person really needs these simple line drawings in high def at all, but a quick comparison of the BD to the DVD picture will convince anyone that there is a definite improvement, especially in the hues.
While the keep case indicates that the WB engineers reproduced the sound using lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, you could hardly tell it by listening. The sound is warm and smooth and listenable, to be sure, but it's also very narrow, front-center bound, with a limited bass and treble response. Don't expect a lot in the way of AQ, despite the impressive credentials.
This is a Blu-ray and DVD combo pack, although it does not contain (that I could find) a digital download. I suppose you could also say a major bonus is having the second feature, "It's Magic, Charlie Brown," along with "It's the Great Pumpkin." If we didn't have the second special, we'd have a twenty-five-minute Blu-ray disc on our hands. In addition to the two specials, we get a featurette "We Need a Blockbuster, Charlie Brown," on the history and making of "It's the Great Pumpkin." The featurette is about fourteen minutes long, produced in 2008, and includes the reminiscences of many of the filmmakers who were around at the time.
The set also includes an embossed slipcover for the keep case; a few trailers at start-up and in the main menu of the DVD only; English and Spanish spoken languages; French and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
Both of the selections on the disc are charming, and it's hard not come away with a smile on your face. And let's not forget the irreplaceable contributions of jazz artist Vince Guaraldi, who may have been as valuable a part of the "Peanuts" specials as Schultz or his characters. However, I'll leave it to the reader to debate whether it's worth the extra few dollars to have these TV specials on Blu-ray disc.