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It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Melendez/Mendelson Productions (1966), Warner Home Video (September 7, 2010), 2 discs (Blu-ray + DVD), 25 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Not Rated, Retail: $24.98

Note: Much of this review is re-used from our previous review of the DVD. For specifics on this Blu-ray release, skip down to the sections focusing on presentation and packaging.

Storyboard:

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. Read on to see whether high definition can possibly improve on a classic.

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?

There are two special features on this Blu-ray disc: the “bonus episode” that also appeared on the DVD, plus the same featurette. There are no trailers on the Blu-ray, which I’m sure everyone will agree is not a big loss.

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.

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.

Case Study:

The release of the Blu-ray comes two years after the DVD release. Those that still want a DVD copy will find one included in the standard Blu-ray keepcase (it is exactly the same DVD as the one first issued two years ago). One disc rests on either side of the case interior. There is an insert containing one pretzel coupon. (Yes, it’s a little bizarre, but there you have it.) Unlike the DVD version, there are no download codes for Guaraldi tracks offered. Like the DVD version, though, the Blu-ray comes with a bright & shiny, foil embossed slip-sleeve. The “Remastered Deluxe Edition” banner has been dropped.

Ink And Paint:

The big question for the sake of this review is undoubtedly whether or not the Blu-ray is an upgrade in the video department. There was a time that I felt that hand-drawn animation would not benefit from HD transfers, and I’ve since admitted that I was wrong. However, in this case, I couldn’t really see an appreciable difference. I toggled back and forth between the two discs, run on separate hi-def players (so that the DVD was upscaled), and could not tell which one was the Blu-ray. There might be a tiny bit more sharpness to the Blu-ray picture, and the blacks may be a tad blacker, but you really have to want to see it. Even the backgrounds didn’t seem to benefit from hi-def. A Peanuts special just isn’t going to suddenly gain in detail just because it gets a hi-def transfer. The truth is, this economically produced TV special was done with simple line drawings and largely monochrome backgrounds, and a standard definition transfer does quite nicely. Plus, I will mention that the unfortunately intense graininess of the final scene has not been improved upon for this release either.

My original comments on the DVD: 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.

Scratch Tracks:

The audio on the Blu-ray provides a much more tangible difference. The sound gets upgraded to a lossless, DTS-HD Master Audio track, presented in 5.1, a definite step up from the DVD’s mono Dolby Digital track. In a side-by-side comparison, I found that the music benefits the most by far, sounding crisper and more natural, much more like the instruments were being played right in front of me. Vince Guaraldi’s jazz scores are really beautiful. Placing music in the rear surrounds also gives scenes that much more atmosphere, giving this old TV special a bit of new life. Dialog still seemed ever so slightly muffled, perhaps showing different recording equipment at work compared to the music soundtrack. I was most disappointed by how the sound effects came off in the new mix. Placing effects into different speakers made the show sound too gimmicky. I would have preferred most of the effects to have stayed in the center, as in most cases that’s where they belong. This show simply wasn’t designed for surround effects. No mono soundtrack is offered on the Blu-ray.

The Blu-ray also has a Dolby Digital 5.1 track in Spanish, and subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. This eliminates most of the generous language options found on the DVD.

Final Cut:

For five dollars more than the DVD by itself, it’s hard to recommend this Blu-ray + DVD combo as a purchase, particularly if you have this on DVD already. If found for a nice discount, though, then by all means make this your preferred way to experience It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. The TV special has not lost any of its lustre over the years, and it will never look better than what it does here. The Blu-ray keeps the special features of the DVD, and while the video does not benefit appreciably, the audio is certainly an upgrade on the whole, even if the sound effects could have been handled better.

As I said in the DVD review: 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.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?


MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD


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