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Reviewed by Will Harris
nimated holiday specials just don’t hold the same mystique that they once did. It seems like a lifetime ago that we – and yes, that’s right, I’m speaking for my entire generation – would giddily await the approach of the major holidays as much for the annual re-airing of the various specials as for the gifts they were about to receive. Did they have a lasting impact on me? Given that I couldn’t get through the “Peanuts Deluxe Holiday Collection” without indulging a serious craving for Dolly Madison snack cakes, I think one would have to say that the answer is a resounding “yes.”
It’s not the first time the big three “Peanuts” specials – “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” and “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” – have been issued on DVD, nor will it be the last, but it’s fair to say that this is the best they’ve ever looked. The three specials have been digitally re-mastered to look and sound better than ever, and as for the content of the specials themselves, well, surely we can all agree that their pop culture immortality is thoroughly warranted.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” is the mother of all Christmas specials, second only to “It’s a Wonderful Life” as the must-see event of the holiday season, and it’s a testament to its sweetness that it manages to continue with its regular airings despite its bashing of crash commercialism and, moreover, the overtly religious reminder from Linus about the real meaning of Christmas. The mere fact that the premise involves the Peanuts gang putting together a school Christmas pageant involving a Nativity scene seems remarkable, since we’re all too politically correct these days to dare to suggest within a children’s special that the Christian members of our population celebrate a holiday which revolves around the birth of Jesus Christ, lest those who maintain other perfectly valid beliefs be offended.
Not that I, uh, have strong feelings about this or anything.
“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” also maintains a premise which would never be allowed in today’s culture: offering up a situation where a child is soundly mocked by his peers for having ridiculous beliefs. You can’t blame them, of course, given how thoroughly ridiculous Linus’ Great Pumpkin legend sounds, but still, they’d never let the special be made in 2008 unless Linus was indeed visited by the Great Pumpkin and told, “You believed in me, Linus, and that’s what the spirit of Halloween is all about!” It’s also a little sad to watch the trick-or-treat sequences and recall the days when your treats didn’t have to be checked by your parents to make sure there weren’t any razor blades in the apples or whatnot, but it’s offset by the running joke of Charlie Brown getting a rock at each stop, which may be the funniest gag in all of the “Peanuts” specials.
As for “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” it’s the lesser of the trio, though that’s hardly a damaging assessment, since it’s still a very solid offering. Somehow, it hasn’t managed to earn the same level of status as its peers, to the point where you may not even be 100% certain that you’ve ever seen it, but you almost certainly have, and the sight of a Thanksgiving banquet featuring popcorn and jellybeans will no doubt stir your memory. It’s also the first time we get to see Peppermint Patty and Marcie in a “Peanuts” special, which in and of itself is enough to make it a must-see.
If you’ve never bought a copy of these “Peanuts” specials before, then this is the perfect opportunity to do so, and if you already own them but you value the sight and sound of a digitally-re-mastered product (and have as much of a soft spot for the work of jazz composer Vince Guaraldi, who provided the fantastic music for all three specials), then that’s just another reason to head to the store.
Special Features: “Peanuts” fans with an appreciation of history will be thrilled to watch the featurettes which accompany each of these specials. All three of the documentaries – “A Christmas Miracle: The Making of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’” “We Need A Blockbuster, Charlie Brown,” and “Popcorn and Jellybeans: Making a Thanksgiving Classic” – feature interviews with various creators and voice actors who worked on the programs, providing a enjoyable look into the creative process involved in transforming Charles Schulz’s beloved characters into animated form. The saddest bit, however, is seeing the late Bill Melendez, who passed away not so terribly long after filming his segments; as the man who directed all three specials, not to mention the guy who provided the voice of Snoopy, he will be greatly missed.
Also worth noting is the inclusion of a bonus “Peanuts” special on each disc: “It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown,” “It’s Magic, Charlie Brown,” and “The Mayflower Voyagers,” respectively. Certainly, none of the three come anywhere near the specials they accompany; the Christmas sequel is easily the most fun of the bunch, so much so that it’s a surprise that it hasn’t gotten more repeat plays over the years, but “The Mayflower Voyagers” is 90% historical and 10% “Peanuts,” while “It’s Magic, Charlie Brown” involves Snoopy turning Charlie Brown invisible and leaves behind the approximation of reality that made “Peanuts” so special in the first place.