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A Charlie Brown Christmas (Blu-ray)
Warner Brothers / 1965 / 25 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: October 06, 2009
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Reviewed by David Krauss
Friday, December 04, 2009
Though daylight grows shorter in the weeks leading up to Christmas, any kid will tell you the days themselves seem to grow ever longer as the anticipation of Santa's arrival and the goodies he will bring intensifies. At my house, the interminable wait could only be mildly soothed by the blessed cartoon and claymation Christmas specials that flooded the network airwaves throughout December. Oh, how I loved and looked forward to 'Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,' 'Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,' 'The Little Drummer Boy' (a bit of religious fare is always good for the soul during yuletide), and 'Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas.' All those shows made me giddy with holiday cheer, but there was something about that lovable blockhead Charlie Brown, his materialistic sister Sally, his thumb-sucking, philosophical friend Linus, and the bossy, egotistical Lucy that captivated my young mind and made 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' one of my all-time favorite holiday programs. And though this classic tale has been annually broadcast for more than 40 years, it miraculously never seems dated and continues to charm newer, younger, and hipper generations with its wit and warmth.
Based on the comic strip creations of the legendary Charles M. Schulz, 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' follows the Peanuts gang through the rigors of rehearsing a holiday pageant. Charlie Brown, forever neglected by his friends and disgusted by the crass elements that seem to have overtaken Christmas, finds himself strangely depressed during this joyous season of giving. He turns to Lucy, the crew's resident psychiatrist, for help, and she believes getting involved in a community project will brighten his perspective. So Charlie becomes the pageant's director, but the distracted neighborhood kids won't listen to him, and his frustration and disillusionment mount. "Doesn't anyone know what Christmas is all about?" he finally bellows in despair. Well, the blanket-toting Linus does, and quietly answers the question, enlightening Charlie (and everyone else) by explaining the true meaning of the season.
An innocence and sweetness pervade 'A Charlie Brown Christmas,' but there's plenty of humor, too, and the jokes make subtle yet cogent points about how the holidays have become mired in greed and commercialism. (I love it when Lucy says Christmas is "run by an Eastern syndicate.") Schulz packs quite a bit into the program's 25-minute running time, allowing Charlie's spirited dog Snoopy free rein to wreak havoc, and providing a showcase for the instantly iconic jazz stylings of composer Vince Guaraldi. Guaraldi's music greatly enhances this animated program, imbuing it with energy, tenderness, and soul, and perfectly complements the story and mood. Just hearing that familiar Peanuts theme, "Linus and Lucy," will make everyone want to hop up off the couch and dance along with Frieda, Pig Pen, and the rest of the group.
Kids of all ages will enjoy 'A Charlie Brown Christmas,' which can at last be seen complete and uncut. (The only things that are missing are those nostalgic Dolly Madison commercials.) This timeless yuletide classic proves year after year that the best holiday fare never goes out of style. Simplicity, honest emotion, and humor infuse this lovable cartoon tale that every family should take for a spin each December. "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!!!"
'A Charlie Brown Christmas' arrives on Blu-ray sporting a solid, if not spectacular, transfer that features vivid color, enhanced sharpness, and a nice dimensional feel. For a 40-year-old TV program, it looks mighty good, but will never rival the latest Disney or Pixar animated releases. The source material is fine, but could have benefitted from dirt and scratch removal, as plenty of scrapes, marks, and specks dot the print. In addition, some digital noise occasionally creeps into solid backgrounds, but rarely distracts.
On the plus side, the bold hues exhibit excellent vibrancy and blacks look inky and lustrous. There's some mild fluctuation in fleshtones from scene to scene, but overall complexions appear natural. Contrast is well pitched and razor sharp lines allow the snowfall early in the program to adopt a slightly dimensional quality. Best of all, 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' never adopts an artificial or overly processed look. Without a doubt, this cartoon classic has never looked better, and replicates the warm, fuzzy feeling it gave us during its early broadcast days.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track doesn't possess quite the oomph I expected, especially with regard to Vince Guaraldi's music score. The familiar Peanuts themes and the lovely "Christmastime Is Here" sound rather flat and lifeless, and lack any kind of surround feel. While it's understandable that the audio for this 1965 TV special would be largely anchored up front and possess little directionality, I hoped the multi-channel remastering would open up the sound field more than it does. Effects possess appropriate zing and the quotable dialogue is always clear and easy to understand, but not much else distinguishes this average track.
- Additional Peanuts Christmas Special: 'It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown' (HD, 23 minutes) – Follow-ups are rarely a good idea, and this aimless 1992 "sequel" is no exception. Possessing no heart, straining for laughs, and lacking any message, it's no wonder 'It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown' hasn't been seen since its initial broadcast. Schulz adds Peppermint Patty, Marcy, and Woodstock to the mix and all but ignores Snoopy (what's up with that?), but the choppy story, which again revolves around the production of a holiday play, doesn't serve them or the regulars well. An interesting curio for Peanuts fans, nothing more.
- Featurette: "A Christmas Miracle: The Making of 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'" (SD, 16 minutes) – This fascinating featurette provides a detailed look at the program's production, and how it all came together in a rushed, six-month timeframe (unheard of for an animated special). Producer Lee Mendelson, director and animator Bill Melendez, former CBS executive Fred Silverman, and Schulz's widow, Jeannie, share their memories of how they turned a newspaper comic strip into a half-hour cartoon, and along the way discuss the impact of Vince Guaraldi's music, the use of actual children's voices for the characters, the network's acute disappointment with and aversion to the finished product, and the tremendous audience response after the special first aired. Anyone who's been remotely touched by 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' will be captivated by this above-average piece.
- DVD Version and Digital Copy – A second disc houses the standard DVD version of 'A Charlie Brown Christmas,' as well as a Digital Copy, which enables the transfer of the program to portable media via Windows Media Player only. Buyer beware: There is no support for iTunes on this Digital Copy disc.
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'A Charlie Brown Christmas' has lost none of its luster over the past 40 years, and this new Blu-ray edition enhances the sparkle of this perennial holiday favorite. The whole family will enjoy this animated classic time and again, and a high-quality video transfer and a couple of interesting supplements make this disc easy to recommend. Enjoy!
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