Charles Schulz’s Peanuts cartoon strip has appeared in newspapers daily since 1950. Unfortunately, the last original strip was in 2000, the year Charles Schulz died. Charlie Brown and company will always be idolized in American pop culture. However, the Peanuts gang was probably at the height of its popularity during the 1960s. In 1965, their first animated special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, was televised and the rest is history. Warner Brothers recently decided to compile and release the first six televised Peanuts animated specials onto one two-disc set called Peanuts: The 1960s Collection. The set includes “Christmas,” “Charlie Brown’s All-Stars,” “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” “You’re In Love, Charlie Brown,” “He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown,” and “It Was A Short Summer, Charlie Brown.”
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) –
In this Emmy and Peabody Award winning classic, Charlie Brown is upset by how commercial the Christmas holiday has become. To get him out of his holiday blues, Lucy suggests he direct the school’s Christmas pageant and decorate a glorious tree. Charlie Brown agrees, but the tree is not so glorious. In fact, it’s so small that everyone makes fun of him for it.
This holiday special is the one that everyone knows by heart. You could argue that all the other specials just try to be as good as this one, because you are not going to get much better. The story is simple enough, but the true meaning of Christmas plays a central focus, which is something everyone should remember once Thanksgiving is over. The animation is nothing too spectacular, but you can’t say the same thing about the music by Vince Guaraldi, which is certainly groundbreaking. This is also where you hear the Peanuts’ unofficial theme song, “Linus and Lucy,” for the first time.
Charlie Brown’s All-Stars (1966) –
The second special doesn’t have a holiday theme, but the subject of this special is still familiar to every Peanuts fan. Charlie Brown is the coach, manager, and captain of a hopelessly bad baseball team. Charlie Brown has never won at anything, and it’s clear from the start that Charlie isn’t good at baseball. When he misses a fly ball during a game, everyone on the team blames Charlie Brown for them never winning a game, and they don’t want him ever to play with them again. Then, they are soon busy with other fun summer activities like skateboarding and inflatable pool swimming. That is until, the promise of sponsorship from Hennessy’s Hardware and real little league uniforms lure them back to the field. Unfortunately, if they become a real little team they must play by their rules, which means that Snoopy, Lucy, Patty, Violet and Frieda would all be kicked off the team. This leaves Charlie Brown with a big moral dilemma.
This special is all about the power of friendship. Every kid has likely played at least one sport, while growing up. It relates to kids and adults at the same time. In addition, we see how big of a heart Charlie Brown has than in this one. “All-Stars” might be lesser known, since it doesn’t feature a holiday, but it is a worthy follow up to what has become a staple of the Christmas season.
It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966) –
The third Peanuts animated special probably ranks second to Christmas. Linus believes in a character called “The Great Pumpkin”. He 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. Of course, everyone else thinks Linus is crazy. Meanwhile, Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang go trick-or-treating and have a Halloween party. The most notable costumes are Lucy dressed up as a witch, and Charlie Brown in a ghost costume that look more like Swiss cheese. In addition, Snoopy becomes a World War I Flying Ace exploring the French countryside in his mind.
This Halloween special has most of the same strengths as the Christmas special. The story is simple, but the animation, music, and style are all excellent. But it lacks the heart, and instead favors the weird and wacky elements of Halloween – making it memorable and entertaining. And it’s a great watch any time of the year.
You’re in Love, Charlie Brown (1967) –
This special marks the first time when see Charlie Brown’s love for the “little red-haired girl” in his class. Charlie Brown is trying to work up the courage to meet his school-girl crush, but with the end of school approaching, there’s no chance he’ll get to see her over the summer. True to form, Chuck has the worst day of his life and embarrasses himself at every turn in front of her. He even enlists the help of his friends, Linus and Peppermint Patty, but they only make things worse. Still is it possible that Charlie Brown can manage a minor victory? Another storyline featured in this special is valedictorian Sally preparing for her cap-and-gown kindergarten graduation.
Here we can empathize with Charlie Brown the most. At some point in their early lives, almost all kids are afraid, too shy, or have lack of self-esteem. Charlie Brown is like all of us deep down, and this special instantly brings back all of our childhood memories of our first loves. The big complaint with this special, though, is the cliffhanger at the end. This really makes everything before it feel anti-climactic. Still it’s solid, and it marks the first time we see the “the little red-haired girl”, Peppermint Patty, and hear the infamous words of Charlie Brown’s teacher, “Blah, blah, blah, blah.” Charlie Brown also has some great lines in this special as well.
He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown (1968) –
Finally, Snoopy is the center of his own special. After a long line of bad behavior, Charlie Brown sends Snoopy back to the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm for a much-needed refresher course in obedience training. Snoopy is having none of that, though, and decides to stay at Peppermint Patty’s house for the night instead. He then decides to never leave, living there selfishly without helping around the house at all. Eventually Peppermint Patty has enough of Snoopy’s antics, but everyone else ends up missing Snoopy. Does Snoopy want to come back home, though?
Charlie Brown’s appearance is minor, so the special is more upbeat than others. It’s not as weightier as the previous specials in this collection, but the “dog is man’s best friend” lesson is an important one to be learned. It’s also nice to see them switch up things and focus on Snoopy, who everyone loves. Laughs are to had in droves when Snoopy’s in command.
It Was A Short Summer, Charlie Brown (1969) –
This is the sixth and last Peanuts special from the 1960s. September has arrived and school is about to resume. The teacher assigns the kids to write a 500-word essay on what they did over their summer vacation. This lets this special be told in a series of flashbacks as we catch up with the gang at summer camp after Lucy signs everyone up. We see that the Peanuts gang has to deal with bad food, and the girls showing up the boys in swimming, softball, canoeing, and every other competitive activity. The only hope for redemption the boys have is having “The Masked Marvel” a.k.a. Snoopy challenge Lucy to a wrist wrestling match.
This special is probably the weakest of the bunch, but remains entertaining nonetheless. Familiar storylines are echoed, and it’s as witty and charming as the others. The monumental championship arm-wrestling contest between Lucy and Snoopy remains a classic to this day.
As an overall collection, you can’t get much better than the Peanuts: The 1960s Collection. While the Christmas and Halloween specials are essentials, Peanuts fans may not want to devot the money to purchasing specials they already have in their collection. This is for those who have desired to see Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the gang in chronological order. Only two of the six specials have never appeared on DVD, so if you must be a Peanuts completist, the 1960s Collection is the way to go.
The six specials are presented in their original 1.33:1 broadcast ratio. The colors and details are strong throughout. Of course, there are some problems but they are only due to age. These are as good as these specials are going to get, except for the Christmas and Halloween specials, which seem to reflect the quality as seen in previous Warner Peanuts releases.
The audio included is available in either English Mono sound, Spanish Mono sound, Japanese Mono sound, or Portuguese Mono sound. There are subtitles available in English, Japanese, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Thai as well. The music doesn’t overpower the dialogue (even the “Blah, blah, blah, blah.”). The track simply does what it needs to do, but not as large of an improvement as the video quality.
“Vince Guaraldi: The Maestro of Menlo Park” Featurette –
This runs 37 minutes and it’s hosted by Lee Mendelson, the executive producer of the Peanuts specials. This featurette covers the life and career of the man behind the distinctive jazz that underscores the animation. In new interviews, we hear from seven former collaborators, Guaraldi’s son David, four admirers/musicians, and Peanuts producer/one-time lyricist Lee Mendelson. This is really a complete documentary of the man who helped the Peanuts specials become as beloved as they are today.
**It should be noted that none of the featurettes from the previous individual Warner Brother DVD releases of A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown have been transferred over to this DVD set. That is certainly a major disappointment for those Peanuts fans looking to add only this DVD set to their collection.**
Casual Peanuts’ fans who have yet to pick up any early Warner Bros. or Paramount DVDs featuring the specials, well this is a no-brainer must buy. Hardcore Charlie Brown and Snoopy fans will have to make a hard choice, though. Should they double-dip or triple-dip on the Christmas and Halloween specials, which and don’t include the previous extras, in addition to getting four other specials, two of which have been available on DVD. For the Peanuts collector, the answer to that question is likely yes. It just makes you mad that Warner Brothers has the power to release all the Peanuts specials on DVD, and they decide to mess around with fans in this way. Still this collection is the best of all the specials, so they are all worth checking out one way or another.
Warner Home Video presents Peanuts: The 1960s Collection. Created by Charles M. Schulz. Directed by Bill Melendez. Running time: 188 minutes. NOT RATED. Released on DVD: July 7, 2009. Available at Amazon.com
Tags: charlie brown, peanuts, snoopy