Melendez/Mendelson Productions (1966), Warner Home Video (September 2, 2008), 1 disc, 25 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono, Not Rated, Retail: $19.98
Linus clings to blind faith in his embracing of the myth of The Great Pumpkin, despite the ridicule of his friends. Meanwhile, a beagle soars into battle atop his doghouse.
The Sweatbox Review:
A Charlie Brown Christmas had been a huge, surprise hit when it was released in December of 1965. CBS was encouraged enough to order another special, and Charlie Brown’s All-Stars debuted the following June. It’s hard to believe now, but the slightly more modest success of the second special led CBS to considering stopping the Peanuts specials if the third one wasn’t another ratings blockbuster. So, they ordered Charles Schulz and the producing team of Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez to come up with another winner— and failure could mean the demise of the Peanuts specials. This seems to have been asking an awful lot, as the third special was to air that fall, less than a year after the original special had conquered television. Could lightning really strike again so soon?
The fact that almost another forty specials followed the Halloween special is testament to the fact that Schulz and the producers knocked It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown out of the park. When it debuted on October 27, 1966, it garnered an amazing 49 share, meaning that about half the televisions in the United States were tuned in to the special that night. Today, a show can hit the top ten with less than a third of that share. Of course, it’s a different world now, with hundreds of channels to choose from; but thankfully, in 1966 it was still possible for half the country to discover the magic of a new Peanuts special without it getting swallowed up in the maelstrom of mediocrity that passes for so much of today’s entertainment.
The story largely concerns the enthusiasm that Linus has for the alleged coming of The Great Pumpkin, a mythical Halloween deity that seems known only to Linus himself. The other children ridicule him, and his own sister simply cannot understand why Linus chooses to sit out in a pumpkin patch on Halloween night while all their friends go “trick or treating” and then to a party. Ah, but Linus has one faithful admirer who stands by him and sacrifices her own chances at Halloween candy that night; Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally, chooses to stay with Linus in the pumpkin patch and even defends him against his persecutors. The resolution of this scenario is classic Peanuts. If you have never seen this, I shan’t spoil it for you, but let it be said that there is a certain amount of humiliation and anger involved, and the outcome of this story reverberated through the comic strip and the cartoon specials for years to come.
The beauty of casting Linus in the role of Great Pumpkin disciple is that he is normally the steady, practical voice of reason in the Peanuts cast. In every other situation, you can rely on Linus to bring sanity to a crazy situation, or to provide a clear moral outlook to what had seemed a confused situation; but every person has a fatal flaw, and for Linus it is his unwavering faith in The Great Pumpkin. Against all reason, he stands firm in his belief that this hitherto unknown presence will appear in a special pumpkin patch on Halloween. This neatly contrasts with the powerful faith Linus showed in the Christmas special the previous year. In a way, the outcome of the Halloween special might diminish one’s opinion of Linus’ faith, until one considers how much more richly his faith was rewarded in the Christmas show. Even if he is somewhat misguided in The Great Pumpkin, his faith remains endearing and even inspiring. Sometimes, it seems, it is simply important to believe in something, particularly in the face of scorn. From a Christian perspective, Linus remains a true witness to what it is that inspires him… even if his friends never quite look at him the same way afterwards.
The main story alone would make this a classic, but there is also a fairly remarkable sequence involving Snoopy’s whereabouts on Halloween night. Charlie Brown, in answer to someone’s question, narrates the story of what Snoopy was doing that night, detailing his adventures as a World War One flying ace, atop his Sopwith Camel. Somehow, the animation makes it all work, with Snoopy’s doghouse being shot down in enemy territory, and making his way across the French countryside. Y’know, that makes no sense, and yet I love it. I tell you, Schulz was a genius.
Throw in another football gag with Lucy, the hilarity of Charlie Brown’s repeated receipt of rocks for his candy bag, Snoopy dancing at Schroeder’s piano, and you have enough for a couple of classics, really. This is one of the great ones.
Is This Thing Loaded?
The disc begins with spots for the new remastered edition of Rankin-Bass’s Jack Frost, as well as the next couple of Peanuts holiday DVDs. Other Trailers available from the menu system include one for The Wiggles, and the next Scooby movie, Scooby-Doo And The Goblin King. (Apparently, they will never stop making more Scooby movies.)
Another Peanuts TV special, new to DVD, appears on this disc as well. It’s Magic, Charlie Brown (24:16) begins with Charlie Brown giving Snoopy a library card, which he uses to check out a book on magic tricks. The book is more effective than anyone might have guessed, as Snoopy holds a magic act for the kids and ends up performing some real magic. After he makes Charlie Brown invisible, the ol’ blockhead despairs at first, before seeing the possibilities in the situation. And when he eyes Lucy playing with a football outside, a plan is hatched. Although I enjoyed this one, the addition of magic into a Peanuts story seems a little out of place. Still, the ending gets it right, with Charlie once again failing to win at life. Phil Roman directed the special, with music by Ed Boyas and Judy Munsen, which comes close to approximating the jazzy sound of Vince Guaraldi’s scores.
(Note: The previous Paramount DVD release of It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown had a different special on it, but Warner has decided to tie into election season by having You’re Not Elected Charlie Brown headline its own disc.)
Warner has also produced another nice little featurette about the main feature. We Need A Blockbuster, Charlie Brown (13:57) has interviews with Fred Silverman, Lee Mendelson, Bill Melendez, Jeannie Schulz, and Sparky’s son Monte Schulz. They tell of how the fate of the Peanuts specials hinged on the success or failure of It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and how the genius of Schulz and talents of the producers carried it off. There are also some nice looks at Vince Guaraldi’s contribution.
Standard keepcase, with a bright & shiny, foil embossed slip-sleeve. Inside are two advertising insets, including one with instructions for downloading two Guaraldi tunes. This DVD is also part of the Peanuts Deluxe Holiday Collection. In this set, which also has the Thanksgiving and Christmas DVDs, there are no foil slip-sleeves, but all three discs get the same cases otherwise and are packaged together in a foil embossed slipcase instead. In the box set, the Christmas DVD case has a tray for another disc (actually, the main case holds the music CD, while the tray holds the DVD itself).
Ink And Paint:
While it can’t look as impressively pristine as a TV show done today, one has to be impressed with just how nice this restoration looks, with one caveat. For the most part, the only blemishes are those original to the initial cel photography. Compared to the previous Paramount release, the look is a tad brighter as well. I’m not sure what went wrong at the end of the special, however, as the last scene before the credits of The Great Pumpkin is excessively grainy, which knocks the video score down a point.
The mono sound is as good as can be, avoiding any echo or hiss. The original cast from A Charlie Brown Christmas is all present, except for Lucy, bringing nice vocal continuity to the series. And of course, the music of Vince Guaraldi perfectly evokes all the right feelings and moods. Spanish, Portuguese, and Japanese tracks are also included, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.
There were many wonderful Peanuts specials over the years, but only a handful are indispensable classics. This is one of them. Charlie Brown and the gang’s glory days actually lasted for a few decades, but the Sixties were clearly part of that time period. Between the endearing optimism and faith of a small boy, the pathos of reconciling faith with events, and the soaring of a beagle on his WWI biplane, this cartoon has anything you could want in a Peanuts special. The addition of a new-to-DVD special is an added bonus, as is another wonderful little featurette. Highly recommended.