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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Peanuts Holiday Collection Blu-ray Review

I was very happy to get to review this collection of  holiday classics since they’ve been been a part of my family’s holiday tradition for as long as I can remember.  I’m sure that’s true for most people since these specials have been shown every year since they first started airing in 1965.

The most ground-breaking and innovative special was the first one, A Charlie Brown Christmas because it bucked the customary use of a laugh track, used a jazz soundtrack, and had children actually provide the voices for the characters instead of adults like usual. The network executives were convinced that it was going to flop and did everything they could to remove the religious content out of it, but creator Charles Schultz prevailed saying, “If we don’t tell the true meaning of Christmas, who will?”

Despite a low budget, and having children providing vocals who couldn’t read their lines.  To get around that, the producers had to give the kids their lines to them line by line in small parts and then editing the bunch of small parts into a long sentence which resulted in the unique Peanuts style of delivery.   Of course, the holiday special was a huge hit  and the success of A Charlie Brown Christmas prompted a wave of over fifty new specials to be produced starting with It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and also A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, both of which are also in this set.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (4 out of 5 stars)

This is the most popular of the three perhaps because the story is as relevant today as it was back in 1965.  Charlie Brown is even more depressed than usual.  Not only is he not getting any Christmas cards but he also feels like the holiday is getting over commercialized and has lost sight of what’s really important.  After a session in Lucy’s psychiatry booth, he decides to direct the school play about the Nativity but he soon discovers that he can’t control the other kids from trying to modernize the play despite his pleas for tradition.
Everywhere he looks, Charlie Brown is dismayed to see everyone is more focused on decorating and gifts than on what the holiday is supposed to stand for.  Even his dog Snoopy is decorating his doghouse with zeal in an attempt to win a neighborhood prize.  In an attempt to simplify the play, Charlie Brown decides that they need to buy a Christmas tree.

When he returns, he is made fun of and laughed at due to the appearance of the sad little tree.  Upset by their reaction, he begins to wonder what Christmas is really about and is answered by Linus who quotes a passage from the Bible which reassures Charlie Brown to follow his beliefs and he takes the tree home and decides to decorate it himself to show the others that it will work. Of course, the other kids having heard the Bible verse have also some thinking to do and whether or not Charlie Brown was right after all.

This is a great reminder for kids and adults not to get too swept up into the commercialization of Christmas and to remember to value what’s really important.  In a time where the biggest Christmas trees cost increasing insane amounts of money the larger they are, it’s both funny and touching to see the value of the sad little Charlie Brown Christmas tree through his eyes.  This special works both as entertainment and also as a nice little morality tale and has enough laughs to keep the family entertained.

Video (4 out of 5 stars)

The  1080p transfer presented here in it’s original aspect ration of 1.33:1, looks better than I’ve ever seen but it’s not without it’s flaws due to the age of the cartoon.  There are some specks and dirt present but those are minor issues when the rest of it looks so good.  Colors are shown in all of their brilliance and the blacks are much deeper than previous releases too.  The detail is so good that some may notice some production errors that weren’t noticeable before.

Audio (2 out of 5 stars)

Unfortunately, the audio doesn’t fare as well as the improved picture quality.  For some reason, the other two releases got an upgraded DTS-HD 5.1 Surround mix but this one did not.  It is sadly in Dolby Digital Mono and you can probably imagine what that sounds like.  It’s nothing great but it the dialogue is clear, but there are some age related defects that pop up but it’s most likely the best we’re going to get for this release.

Special Features (3 out of 5 stars)

  • A Christmas Miracle: The Making of A Charlie Brown Christmas – An interesting look at how the the characters made the jump from comics to television.

  • It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown – A direct to video release that is nice to have but it’s not as good as the original.

  • DVD version

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (4 out of 5 stars)

This was the tenth prime-time Peanuts special and it even won an Emmy Award! This time around, it’s Thanksgiving and Peppermint Patty has invited herself along with her friends over to Charlie Brown’s house for a Thanksgiving dinner.  Being as wishy-washy as usual, Charlie Brown doesn’t refuse so it’s up to him, Linus, and Snoopy and Woodstock to prepare the unexpected meal for their guests.
As you can expect, things don’t go exactly as planned and the meal of popcorn, pretzel sticks, ice cream, and toast doesn’t thrill Patty and she chastises Charlie Brown enough to make him leave.  Feeling bad after being reminded by Marcie that she invited herself over, Patty makes amends with Charlie Brown  while Snoopy and Woodstock prepare their own Thanksgiving feast. This is a pretty basic premise but it’s done well with a lot of humorous touches, especially the sight of Snoopy and company trying to make a big dinner in record time.  There’s also a lot of cute interplay between Snoopy and Woodstock showing off how good they are as a comedy team.

Video (3 out of 5 stars)

The is the weakest picture quality of the three specials and it could use a lot more work.  The  1080p transfer presented here in it’s original aspect ration of 1.33:1 but there’s a lot of noise, dirt, and specks here that fortunately doesn’t plague the other two discs as much as this one.  The colors are still bright and the black levels are satisfactory but this print has issues that perhaps couldn’t be improved on more than this.  It still looks a lot better than I remember though.

Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

The DTS-HS Master Audio 5.1 surround mix is a solid effort and is most likely the best we will ever get due to the special’s age and materials available.  As expected, it’s a front channel heavy mix but the dialogue is clear and the music is presented well too.  There’s not really much effort to use the satellite channels for anything more than the music but this is a nice track anyway.

Special Features (3 out of 5 stars)

  • Mayflower Voyagers – Another special in HD where they try to teach kids about what really happened in the past that led to it being celebrated as a holiday.  My wife calls this “sneaky learning,” and that’s what it is.  Informational and still made fun by the inclusion of the Peanuts gang, it’s a nice way to teach kids about history.
  • Popcorn & Jellybeans: Making a Thanksgiving Classic – A behind the scenes look at the making of the original special with the animators, producers, and voice actors behind it.  I enjoyed it and it was interesting to learn that the voice of Peppermint Patty was actually voiced by a boy!
  • DVD version

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (5 out of 5 stars)

Now we finally come to my favorite Peanuts special!  Once again, poor gullible Charlie Brown is tempted to kick the football before Lucy pulls it away, and Linus is convinced that Halloween’s version of Santa Claus – the Great Pumpkin will visit the  nearby pumpkin patch and bring lots of toys and candy to those who believe in him.
The rest of the kids are preparing to go trick or treating and get their costumes in order.  Of course, Charlie Brown has problems making the eye holes for his ghost costume so he ends up with holes everywhere.  While Linus’ sister Lucy does everything she can to prevent Linus from spending the night in the pumpkin patch, Sally (who has a crush on him) believes him and decides to join in the vigil.
Meanwhile, Snoopy who is now dressed as a World War I ace, boards his doghouse to fight his arch nemesis the Red Baron.  As usual, he is shot down and believes to have crash landed in enemy territory in France, but in actuality,  he is just in the backyard.  He later infiltrates the Halloween party and has Schroeder play him some WWI songs on his piano.  This is a funny and touching special where we see Lucy’s frustration with her brother’s belief in the Great Pumpkin but still is willing to go out at 4 am to pick him up from the pumpkin patch to bring him home and put him in bed.  Snoopy’s imaginative fight against the Red Baron is also a lot of fun especially if you’ve read the comic strips before.

Video (4 out of 5 stars)

The  1080p transfer presented here in it’s original aspect ration of 1.33:1 looks fantastic and I think has the best quality of this set.  Colors are varied and pop, detail is excellent, and the black levels look great which is nice to have when most of the special takes place in the dark.

Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

The DTS-HS Master Audio 5.1 surround mix is pretty good overall.  The dialogue is clear and just like the other two, it’s a front channel heavy mix which is expected.  There are some pops and hisses every once in awhile but overall between the dialogue and the music, it sounds good and is most likely as good as we can get.

Special Features (3 out of 5 stars)

  • It’s Magic, Charlie Brown TV SpecialA fun special in HD that is pretty amusing as Snoopy learns to be a magician and turns Charlie Brown invisible which finally allows him to kick the football for once in his life.

  • We Need a Blockbuster, Charlie BrownA look at the pressure that was felt to create something successful.  We hear from animators, the Schultz family, the cast and more.  I really wish they made these into longer featurettes since they are so interesting.

  • DVD version

Final Thoughts (4 out of 5 stars)

I’ve always enjoyed these specials and it’s great to finally see them in high definition.  The picture quality has vastly improved over the usual print shown on television, and the sound is as good as it probably can get so I highly recommend everyone to upgrade to this new set.  I know that I will be selling my DVD set of this since the HD version is so much better.

Order your copy today!

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