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I Want A Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown

Melendez/Mendelson Productions (2003), Paramount Home Video (October 26, 2004), 1 disc, 41 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, Not Rated, Retail: Discontinued

Storyboard:

Rerun wants a puppy, and ends up with Snoopy’s eccentric brother.

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The Sweatbox Review:

Opinions vary on whether or not there should be ongoing Peanuts specials following the death of creator Charles Schulz. I am divided on the issue myself, but if new specials are to be made, I am at least glad that they can be as enjoyable as I Want A Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown. This 2003 special, thanks to being based on the comic strips of Schulz, is every bit as warm and humorous as most of the specials done in Schulz’s lifetime. It aired as the first hour-long Peanuts special since 1988’s It’s the Girl in the Red Truck, Charlie Brown.

This special, as always, is a production of Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez (with a co-director credit for Larry Leichliter). Like many Peanuts specials, this one has a main story, along with a succession of largely unrelated skits, held together by a common theme— in this case, Christmas and Wintertime. We see the kids making a snowman, Snoopy and his bird friends tobogganing, Lucy and Schroeder having a typical discussion as he plays his piano, and Snoopy dressed as Santa Claus. We also see other snippets like young Rerun being terrorized on the back of his mother’s bike (his soliloquies while fearing for his life are borderline hilarious), speaking to his siblings at home, and “falling in like” with a fascinating girl in kindergarten who keeps changing her name.

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The ongoing storyline here centers on Rerun, the little brother of Lucy and Linus Van Pelt. Rerun has an experience similar to many kids, as he feels like he is trapped in a family of oddballs. He has a crabby older sister, and an older brother who still sucks his thumb and carries a security blanket. He craves a playmate that he can relate to, one who will want to play with him and not be an embarrassment. He latches onto the idea that Snoopy would be the perfect companion, but Charlie Brown is not eager to sell Snoopy, and Snoopy seems disinterested in playing with Rerun.

Rerun gets “fired” from Kindergarten for “harassing” the odd little girl in his class, but Christmas vacation is about to begin anyway. He devotes some of his time to writing a letter to Santa, despite knowing that his mom will veto any wishes for a dog. He goes to Charlie Brown to discuss Snoopy some more, and learns more about Snoopy’s family. Peanuts fans should get a kick out of seeing flashbacks to Snoopy’s brothers, and there is even some Sopwith Camel action to be enjoyed. (There is also another scene later with Snoopy on his doghouse with Sally, which is played almost as if they are actually flying, which felt like a mistake in tone— perhaps my one complaint about this special.) This all leads to Rerun issuing an invitation to a favorite supporting player in the Peanuts universe, a certain desert-dwelling dog. From there, we see what happens when Spike comes to town to be Rerun’s pet.

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Throughout the special, the one-liners come often and they come funny. This is the advantage behind taking these new specials directly form the daily strips. True, it must be tricky to form a cohesive story, but the benefit of heaping on one funny line after another cannot be overestimated. And naturally, these funny lines carry the trademark Schulz humor, managing to be wise, poignant, melancholy, and uplifting. Not everyone can “get” that Schulz vibe, but for those of us that do, it is a special kind of magic.

This special may not carry the profound message or poignancy of the first Peanuts Christmas special, but stands on its own as a delightful work of entertainment. As always, Charlie Brown and the gang deliver a story in the traditional Peanuts manner, avoiding modern gimmicks or spoofing, and achieving a timeless quality that should serve it well on future viewings.

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Is This Thing Loaded?

The disc launches into its Previews straight away. The ones on this DVD include Candy Land, Weebles, Tonka Tough Truck Adventures, various Peanuts videos, Charlotte’s Web, and Curious Buddies.

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Two other specials are included on this disc as “Extras”. Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales (17:50) is from 2002. It was created to fill out the one-hour spot given to a broadcast of the unedited A Charlie Brown Christmas. Its script was even more fragmented than most of the specials, with each of five segments receiving their own title card— a card that is in fact a Christmas card, with a different holiday greeting signed by the main character from that segment. Even within a segment, there are numerous skits that belie their comic strip origins. I enjoyed every minute of this, but in the end it is a fluffy special that leaves little impression once it is over. Regardless, it is well worth checking out.

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As much as I liked the main feature on this disc, the real treasures may be found in The Making Of A Charlie Brown Christmas (16:25). Like the special mentioned above, this one was also created to fill out a one-hour showing of the first Charlie Brown special, but this one aired in 2001. Whoopi Goldberg hosted a look back at the origins of the original Christmas special, as well as Peanuts animation in general. Included here are rare clips from the first Peanuts animated cartoons from 1961, which were advertisements for the Ford Falcon automobile. There is also two minutes of 1963 animation from a Schulz documentary produced by Medelson and Melendez that was never broadcast, interviews with the producers, and remembrances of the voice cast from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Wow. Cool stuff. Best of all, you can see the producers and Sparky himself (Schulz) receive their Emmy Award for A Charlie Brown Christmas! Very neat!

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Of course, the obvious remark to make is that the only thing missing here is the actual special A Charlie Brown Christmas, which to date has received two editions on DVD. The latest one, from Warner Home Video, has a newly produced “Making of” on it, so this disc is the only place to see the Whoopi featurette, which to me bests the newer one.

Case Study:

Standard keepcase, with Peanuts advertising insert.

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Ink And Paint:

The main feature has some minor aliasing, as well as some interlacing errors. It is a shame, since otherwise the picture is bright and devoid of physical artifacts. The picture quality suffers a little more in the extra features, with a higher degree of the same problems. It simply looks as if the compression work was rushed. At least edge enhancement was kept to a minimum, but there is no excuse for a newer TV special to be handled so shabbily.

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Scratch Tracks:

The audio quality is pleasing, but the Dolby 2.0 sound is nothing special. As all the specials on this disc are of relatively recent vintage, there is not the wide disparity seen on, say, Paramount’s Lucy Must Be Traded disc. David Benoit continues to provide a nice musical score based on the work of Vince Guaraldi.

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English subtitles are provided.

Final Cut:

I cannot get enough Peanuts on DVD, and I am happy to report that this newer special comes off very well in comparison to previous ones. As an hour-long special, in addition to the two extra features, this disc has a longer total runtime than many of the other Peanuts discs, and is a nice value. Nothing can beat the original A Charlie Brown Christmas in my books, but some of that Peanuts magic can still be found in this DVD. As it has been discontinued by Paramount, who no longer has the distribution rights for the Charlie Brown specials, you shall have to hunt this DVD down on the used market or bargain bins— but it would be well worth the effort.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

 

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