Sure to help even the most cynical among us embrace the season, the Peanuts Holiday Collection is now available on Blu-ray from Warner Home Video. Each of the three titles included in this boxed set is available individually, but it’s more cost effective to grab them together. The three featured titles are among the most enduring holiday specials of all time. Each special is paired with an additional “bonus” special, which is much appreciated considering the programs only run 25 minutes each. Warner has thrown in a standard DVD containing the same content as each Blu-ray disc.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown originally aired in 1966. This classic finds Charlie Brown receiving nothing but rocks during his trick-or-treating session. Meanwhile, his friend Linus stays up all night in the pumpkin patch awaiting the arrival of the so-called Great Pumpkin. Though constantly belittled by the rest of the Peanuts gang, Linus repeats this ritual year after year rather than collecting candy.
Jumping ahead to 1981, the bonus special found on this disc is It’s Magic, Charlie Brown. Definitely a big step down in quality from the iconic Great Pumpkin, this one nonetheless includes some fun scenes. Snoopy becomes the Great Houndini in this one, making Charlie Brown invisible. This allows ol’ Chuck to finally kick the football that Lucy always pulls away at the last minute.
Debuting in 1973, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving finds Peppermint Patty imposing herself upon Charlie Brown. She basically forces him into hosting a Thanksgiving dinner party for herself and friends. Charlie Brown can’t bring himself to refuse, but soon realizes he can’t really cook either. Thanksgiving dinner becomes a bizarre assortment of snack foods, including jelly beans and popcorn. Also pretty weird is the fact that dinner is served outdoors.
This bonus special, The Mayflower Voyagers, is from 1988. Actually it originally aired as part of an eight-special series called This Is America, Charlie Brown. It might have been better to set this one aside and release it with the other seven America specials. Basically The Mayflower Voyagers is an educational piece about the Pilgrims and their trek to the “new world.” The Peanuts characters tell the story, portraying Pilgrims. It’s actually quite boring and the weakest special on all three discs.
A Charlie Brown Christmas was the very first Peanuts special, airing in 1965. Time has been very kind to this program, as it holds up perfectly 45 years later. A depressed Charlie Brown directs the school Christmas play, only to find that everyone involved wants the endeavor to be as commercial as possible. Unwilling to give in to such demands, Charlie goes out to buy a real Christmas tree rather than an artificial one. He chooses a pathetically scrawny tree. Along the way, Linus recites Bible verse to reaffirm the true meaning of Christmas.
I was unaware that new Peanuts specials were even being produced in the 1990s and beyond. The bonus special on the third disc, It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown, aired in 1992. This special is nowhere near the quality level of the 1965 program, but it’s nice to have anyway. The various ideas don’t really add up to an actual story this time. Lots of amusing bits turn up. Charlie Brown tries to buy the perfect gift for girlfriend Peggy Jean. There are some hijinks involving another school play. It’s a fun special and a nice, lighter companion to the 1965 classic.
Each disc also includes a fifteen minute featurette focused on the making of each headlining special. Interviews from various participants, such as the producer of the specials Lee Mendelson, are featured. There are comments from Peanuts‘ historian Scott McGuire, Jeannie Schulz (widow of Peanuts’ creator Charles Schulz), among others. These are nice additions for older fans of the specials, providing fairly brief but informative background on each of the main specials.
As for the presentation on Blu-ray, the specials collected on Peanuts Holiday Collection look better in 1080p high definition than they ever have. Each special is framed at its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The image is sharp on each special. Colors are vivid throughout. Though print flaws become a minor distraction on some of the earlier specials, I didn’t notice any digital artifacts. Primitive as the animation is, these specials look great on Blu-ray.
There are DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes for the Great Pumpkin and Thanksgiving discs. A Charlie Brown Christmas has a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. These specials were originally mixed in mono for television broadcast decades ago. Expanding that audio to a surround sound mix yields very mixed results. It was unnecessary to remix the audio, creating a rather artificial soundscape. The rear channels are rarely used, with occasional effects carrying over to them for apparent emphasis. The classic Vince Guaraldi scores lose punch when stretched across the right and left channels. Dialogue isn’t as centered as it could be. These discs actually sounded better through my regular old television speakers than through the surround sound system.
Though each disc of the Peanuts Holiday Collection contains barely more than one hour of content, they are sure to be family favorites at the holidays. For more on the Peanuts’ home video releases, visit the official site.