Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 99, 2009)
After the debut of A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965, fans got five more Peanuts specials in that decade. A DVD set called Peanuts 1960s Collection scoops up all six and plops them onto two discs. Here’s what we find:
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965): “Charlie Brown has the holiday blues. Can the spindly little tree he finds help everyone discover the meaning of the season?”
The very first Peanuts special takes a gentle and non-preachy look at the "real meaning" of Christmas. Even as long ago as 1965, the forces of commercialization had taken over the holiday, and this show makes a mild attempt to reclaim it for its actual purpose.
It's well known that many folks get pretty depressed at the holidays, and Charlie Brown is no exception; the festive nature of the period shows him more clearly than ever the problems of his life. He takes on the job of director of a Christmas pageant to boost his emotions, but as with most of his undertakings, it goes awry. How he and the others deal with this is what adds the depth and spark to the production.
Christmas straddles the line between silly comedy and preachy "message piece". However, it does so quite cleanly and never falls too harshly into one category. Even when we hear Linus read from the Bible, the actions fit the tone of the program and don't become excessively dull or serious.
A Charlie Brown Christmas has endured this long for one reason: it's a very solid special that offers pretty much everything you'd want from a Christmas show. All that packed into 25 minutes makes it a taut and concise gem.
Charlie Brown’s All-Stars (1966): “New uniforms and league membership: will those things help transform a hard-luck team into winners?”
As the follow-up to the classic Charlie Brown Christmas, All-Stars has big shoes to fill. I’m happy to report that it does pretty well for itself. Of course, it lacks the warm emotionality of its predecessor, but it offers a fun experience.
Like many Peanuts shows, fans will recognize some of the gags from the daily strips. Not too many of these examples occur, though, as the program provides mostly new material. Even the redundant jokes still entertain. Though not quite as good as its predecessor, All-Stars is a funny winner.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966): “Charlie Brown has been invited to a Halloween party, and Linus hopes he’ll finally catch a sighting of the mysterious Great Pumpkin.”
Of all the many Peanuts specials, this one probably offers the most "laugh out loud" funny moments as it shows the crew's reactions to Halloween. The show lacks much of a coherent plot as it simply focuses on a few different aspects of the day, from costume creation to trick or treating to Linus' famed crusade to meet the Great Pumpkin. It's all clever and witty and makes for a very entertaining episode.
I also feel Pumpkin features possibly the Peanuts series’ best vocal cast. A few years ago, I watched six of these specials back-to-back but Pumpkin came first, and I noticed that later Charlie Browns weren't nearly as strong as its Peter Robbins.
Robbins performed as Charlie Brown from 1965 through 1969 and remains the definitive voice for the part. As I’ll mention later, others filled in effectively for the rest of the characters, but none of the subsequent Charlies seem to do the trick. A substantial portion of the show's laughs come from Robbins' line readings, and he helps make the program work even better than it would. Pumpkin remains among the very best Peanuts specials.
You’re In Love, Charlie Brown (1967): “Charlie Brown is smitten with the Little Red-Haired Girl and hopes to let her know before school lets out for the summer.”
After three straight high-quality specials, the set takes a dip with Love. No, it’s not a bad show, as it includes a smattering of good laughs, and I like its sweet tone. However, it just doesn’t entertain as much as its predecessors. It keeps us with it reasonably well, but it remains pretty average.
He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown (1968): “Mischief-maker Snoopy tries everyone’s patience. Can he be rehabilitated into a nice, obedient puppy?”
Dog starts with something of an odd premise, as I don’t recall Snoopy ever being a poorly behaved dog – or at least I don’t remember the kids getting so annoyed at him. Nonetheless, the show overcomes its awkward plot and a general lack of story to become amusing. Snoopy’s antics – especially “on vacation” at Peppermint Patty’s – offer quite a few fun bits. Dog doesn’t compete with the three earliest specials, but it entertains well.
It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown (1969): “Summer camp rivalries between the boys and the girls leave the guys in the dust. Unless a certain ‘Masked Marvel’ can score an arm-wrestling victory.”
The 1960s come to an end with Summer. In the category of “huh?”, Summer sends Sally to Kindergarten – even though she graduated from Kindergarten in Love! No, I don’t expect great continuity from Peanuts, but this is an odd lack of logic.
Despite that slip, Summer finishes the package well. It mixes Peanuts staples like Charlie Brown’s ineptitude and Linus’s fears with a good camp theme. That situation allows for a mix of fun gags, and the show turns into a winner. Even the flashback formula satisfies.
One technical note: although the packaging indicates that the first four specials appear on DVD One, that’s not true. We get three shows on DVD One and three specials on DVD Two.