This collection features three classic Peanuts television specials, It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving; and A Charlie Brown Christmas. Each is paired with a less successful Peanuts special.
The Great Pumpkin is a television institution. It was the third animated Peanuts special and has been airing annually on network television since 1966. The main plotline focuses on Linus as he anticipates the arrival of The Great Pumpkin, a magical creature similar to Santa Claus, who brings toys to children. The main difference is that The Great Pumpkin only shows up at sincere pumpkin patches. Linus faces doubters at every turn, including derision from his friend Charlie Brown, laughter from Snoopy, and threats from his older sister Lucy, who makes clear, “You better cut it out right now or I'll pound you!” Yet his faith remains strong, causing him to bypass trick-or-treating to await The Great Pumpkin’s arrival. Sally, who has a one-way crush on Linus, agrees to wait with him in the pumpkin patch, needlessly warning, “If you try to hold my hand, I'll slug you.”
There are also two subplots. Charlie Brown gets invited to Violet’s party, his first to a party of any kind, but Lucy quickly informs him it was likely an error. He dresses like a ghost, but has “a little trouble with the scissors,” and creates his iconic costume of a ghost with too many eyes. His luck continues in this same vein. While out with the gang trick-or-treating, Charlie Brown only receives rocks in his candy bag. Snoopy has his own adventure. As a WWI flying ace, he takes to the skies in his Sopwith Camel, battles with the Red Baron, and ends up behind enemy lines. Charles Schulz pulls all three stories together nicely with his usual charm, wit, and insight.
It’s Magic, Charlie Brown is the 23rd animated Peanuts special and debuted in 1981. After being given Charlie Brown’s library card, Snoopy gets a book on magic. He puts on a show as “The Great Houndini” performing tricks with limited success, such as pulling a rabbit (Woodstock wearing bunny ears) out of his hat and levitating Lucy. Snoopy makes Charlie Brown disappear, but isn’t sure how. Turns out he made him invisible, but Snoopy doesn’t know how to turn him back. Charlie Brown is resigned to forever “walk the Earth as a lost soul,” although there is a silver lining as he is finally able to kick Lucy’s football. This episode only focuses on the one story.
While Great Pumpkin is grounded in reality other than Snoopy’s flights of fancy, everything in It’s Magic is wildly unrealistic and seems to stray from the Peanuts I remember. Plus, add my shock and disappoint in seeing Charlie Brown finally get to kick the football, and I can guarantee I have no desire to ever watch this special again. Schulz tries to explain it away by having Lucy say it doesn’t count because no one saw Charlie Brown do it because he was invisible, but that’s complete rubbish. No one is usually ever around during these incidents, Charlie Brown is doing it for himself and not for others to see, and the viewers know he did it. Schulz wrote himself into a corner and cheated to get out, something I would expect from a Hollywood producer who was only using the characters to make a buck, not the man who created the Peanuts universe. It was a disappointment.
The animation styles are different as well. Director Bill Melendez and his animation team created gorgeous-looking scenes and made great use of color in the night skies and during Snoopy’s aerial dogfight in Great Pumpkin. Director Phil Roman's vision was serviceable and straightforward, but nothing memorable in the artwork for It's Magic.
While It’s Magic failed miserably with me, my nine-year-old nephew actually liked it better. He thought Great Pumpkin was good, so I am not going to disown him, but It’s Magic stood above because he enjoyed the magic and after seeing parts of the inside of Snoopy’s doghouse, he thought it was the best doghouse in the world and wanted to live in it, a well-reasoned point I, as a former nine-year-old, can’t argue.
There is one special feature, “We Need a Blockbuster, Charlie Brown,” that is about the creation of Great Pumpkin. There are interviews with executive producer Lee Mendelson, Melendez, Schulz family members, and historians. Two songs from the soundtrack, “Great Pumpkin Waltz” and “Oh, Good Grief,” are available as free iTunes downloads thanks to The Concord Music Group.
Thanksgiving premiered in 1973 and was the first from an original script as opposed to being based on Charles Schulz’ comic strips. After the opening where Charlie Brown attempts to kick Lucy’s football, the story deals with Peppermint Patty inviting herself, Marcy, and Franklin over to Charlie Brown’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. He already has plans to go to his grandmother’s, but he is unable to say "no," partially thrown off by her inaccurate declarations of his affection for her. Linus suggests Charlie Brown make dinner early for everyone and Charlie Brown confesses he can only make “cold cereal and maybe toast,” but they proceed anyway, creating a meal of buttered toast, popcorn, jellybeans, and pretzel sticks.
Before dinner is served, Linus offers a prayer by telling the story of the first Thanksgiving between the pilgrims and the Indians. Upon seeing what dinner is comprised of, Peppermint Patty complains about not having the traditional items like turkey and mashed potatoes and embarrasses “Chuck.” After he leaves the table, Marcie points how rough and ungrateful Peppermint Patty was. Marcie then straightens things out. All ends well when Charlie Brown’s Grandma invites everyone over for dinner.
The special presents a good message, explaining that people should be thankful for what they have. It is also very funny, especially the mishaps of Snoopy and Woodstock as they set up the dinner table and make toast.
An included bonus special that ties in thematically is “The Mayflower Voyagers,” the first episode from the This Is America, Charlie Brown miniseries that aired in 1988 and ’89. The Peanuts gang play pilgrims headed to the colonies, but it is very odd seeing them mixed with adult characters. The special is rather dry and doesn’t offer much humor. It seems better suited as a teaching aide.
An All-New Featurette “Popcorn & Jellybeans: Making a Thanksgiving Classic” continues in the tradition of previous Peanuts DVD releases, providing great insight into the making of the project. It is funny to hear the widow Mrs. Schulz say Charles was against Charlie Brown kicking Lucy’s football because “that’s not funny. You know, once he kicks the football the whole thing is over,” yet he did just that years later in It’s Magic, Charlie Brown, which is paired with Great Pumpkin.
A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first Peanuts special and it deals with Charlie Brown not understanding the holiday because he’s put off by the commercialization and selfishness, especially in his own family. Snoopy attempts to win a lights-and-display decorating contest and Sally sends a letter to Santa that asks for $10 and $20 bills. Charlie Brown goes to see Lucy the psychologist who suggests he direct the Christmas play. When he can’t get the gang focused, he goes in search of a Christmas tree and finds the now-iconic pathetic tree with falling needles. Naturally, it goes over poorly when he brought it back. Linus reveals what Christmas is about, quoting the Gospel of Luke. The special won an Emmy and a Peabody award.
It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown premiered in 1992 and was the last to debut on CBS. It revisits the holiday using storylines from the comic strip. Charlie Brown goes door to door selling wreaths to make some money to buy Peggy Jean, a girl he likes, a present. Peppermint Patty is assigned a book report and searches for ways to complete it without reading the book. Sally works on a theme on what “The True Meaning of Christmas” is, apparently forgetting what Linus explained in the previous special. She asks Linus about Christmas but as he tries to repeat the Gospel of Luke passage, she complains about shopping throughout . Like the original, there is a Christmas play, which this time gets performed.
Unfortunately, this special, like many of the bonus specials on the recent Deluxe Edition DVDs, is disappointing filler. It falls far short of the original’s quality, and Schulz appears to be coasting on his legacy. The insight is insignificant and there’s very little humor in part because the pacing of the jokes is flat. It’s surprising Schulz was involved with its creation because it comes across like other people trying to cash in.
Extras in the release include the all-new “A Christmas Miracle: The Making of A Charlie Brown Christmas,” which provides background of the show’s creation by principals involved and historians, and a six-song sampler CD from the first Christmas special soundtrack. Unfortunately the 2001 documentary entitled “The Making of A Charlie Brown Christmas” is not included.
The featured specials in Peanuts Deluxe Holiday Collection make the entire set worth owning. They are important holiday traditions to the television generation. The bonus specials may work for young children, but will likely disappoint adults who hold Peanuts in high esteem.