Peanuts, for those who may have been living in a bubble since 1950, is a comic strip created by Charles Schulz that features a cast of children, a beagle named Snoopy, and a bird named Woodstock. The stories tend to revolve around Snoopy's owner, the "round-headed kid" named Charlie Brown, and the conflict between his eternal hope and regularly being disappointed with reality. While Schulz was a practicing Christian, and many passages of scripture found their way into the strip, his intent was simply to "draw funny pictures every day," as his son Craig Schulz puts it in the "In Full Bloom: Peanuts at Easter" featurette.
In 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas aired on CBS. It was the first of many popular prime-time TV specials based on the Peanuts characters, including 1966's It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which is later referenced in It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown. The latter first aired on CBS in 1974, and has been rebroadcast annually since then, with the exception of 2007, when it was inexplicably not shown by ABC, who currently holds the rights to it. In 1975, it was nominated for the Outstanding Children's Special Emmy.
It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown begins on the Saturday before Easter Sunday. Sally is complaining to her big brother, Charlie Brown, that she won't have nice shoes for Easter when Lucy and Linus arrive on the scene. They are going to the store to buy Easter things and invite Charlie Brown and Sally to go with them, although Linus says it won't matter because the Easter Beagle will bring them everything on Easter morning.
At the store, which is advertising huge sales on Christmas items (a commentary on the commercialization of holidays that was as true in 1974 as it is today), they meet up with Peppermint Patty and Marcie, who are there to buy a dozen eggs to decorate. Once again, Linus reminds everyone that the Easter Beagle will provide all the Easter eggs, but no one believes him.
As the day progresses, anticipation of the delights of Easter morning increases for all the children. Just when it seems like all hope is lost ("Never trust a man with a blanket!"), the Easter Beagle arrives in the form of Snoopy, who distributes decorated eggs to everyone. Unfortunately, he runs out of them by the time he gets to Charlie Brown, an event that had already been depicted in the comic strip and fits with the over-all un-luck of Charlie Brown.
The comparisons to the Halloween special, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, are fairly obvious. Once again, we have Linus proclaiming his faith in something that none of the other children believe, for which he is ridiculed. However, this time his faith is rewarded, and in the end, the children learn something about having faith even when it seems improbable.
Part of what makes the Peanuts specials so timeless is their pacing and humor. There are many interludes that do not exist to further the plot, but frequently create a sense of joy through their simplicity. Viewers who are used to fast-paced action thrillers may find it difficult to slow down and appreciate the pacing of the special, but since most of them have likely already seen it or another of the Peanuts specials in their childhood, the nostalgia will likely be enough to hold their attention.
The remastered DVD of It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown looks and sounds much better than what one might expect of an animated television show from 1974, despite the occasional scenes where the lines and colors are not as crisp as they could be. The feature is shown in the same aspect ratio as the original television broadcast, as are the two special features, It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown and the aforementioned "In Full Bloom: Peanuts at Easter" featurette.
The featurette is an edited collection of interviews with members of Schulz's family, friends, and other cartoonists. They talk about Schulz, his inspiration for Peanuts, and the process of creating It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown. I wouldn't recommend playing this for the kids, as they will likely be bored by it, but mature viewers will appreciate the insight and behind-the-scenes aspect provided by the featurette.
Curiously packaged as a special feature, 1976's It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown could have had its own release on DVD, but instead, as with the 2003 DVD release, it is included with It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown. This Peanuts special is an informative and entertaining look at Arbor Day, and it is also the last special to feature the original music of Vince Guaraldi, who died shortly after completing the soundtrack.
The plot of It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown revolves around Sally's Arbor Day school report, which results in her being inspired to plant trees. Lucy cleverly convinces Sally and Linus that they should plant in Charlie Brown's baseball field. Hilarity ensues when Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty find their teams squaring off in a baseball field that better resembles an English garden. One of my favorite exchanges between the characters on this DVD occurs in this special:
Peppermint Patty: "You know what I don't understand, Chuck. I don't understand love."
Charlie Brown: "Who does?"
Peppermint Patty: "Explain love to me, Chuck."
Charlie Brown: "I can recommend a book or a painting or a song or a poem, but I can't explain love."
Some have criticized It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown for using a relatively obscure holiday for the storyline, but I found myself enjoying it more than It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown. The special conveys information about Arbor Day without being too preachy or pedantic, which warms my librarian heart. The pacing is a little faster, and there are fewer non-plot interludes than in the main feature, which a modern audience will find more appealing.
It's Easter, and if you haven't already had your holiday dose of Peanuts cheer, pick up a copy of the newly remastered It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown. It will go well with the new high-def TV you bought for Christmas.