There are few holiday television specials more beloved than 'It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.' As it's noted in the making-of documentary that accompanies this new Blu-ray release, when the special first aired on October 27th, 1966, nearly half of the televisions in America were tuned in. That's huge. Huger than huge.
Since then, the special has lived on through annual television airings (each racking up considerable ratings, even though two scenes were trimmed to allow for more commercials) and releases on home video. It remains a seasonal classic. The special, directed by Bill Melendez, remains a staple because of its simple artistry and timeless message, one about hope, faith, and believing in something when everyone else tells you you're nuts.
The story of 'It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,' loosely cobbled together from various Charles Schulz "Peanuts" cartoon strips, centers around perennial "blockhead" Linus, who believes in a mystical, Santa Claus-ish Halloween spirit called the Great Pumpkin. The Great Pumpkin, Linus claims, visits girls and boys who believe in him, on Halloween night, delivering presents. In one of the special's best scenes, Linus writes a note to the Great Pumpkin, with the words of his letter appearing above his head (Wes Anderson is a huge fan of the Melendez brothers, and this scene is referenced in Luke Wilson's communiqués from the ship in 'The Royal Tenenbaums').
Elsewhere in the special, loveable dog Snoopy has vivid fantasy sequences wherein he imagines himself as a World War I flying ace, shooting it out with the Red Baron. (The scenes are narrated by Charlie Brown in a stroke of brilliance that allowed for a compelling narrative for the mute dog.) The Red Baron sequence, with his doghouse taking to the unfriendly European skies, is another one of those memorable bits of this special that make it such a classic.
But what 'It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown' is really all about is faith, oddly enough. It's the faith that Linus has in the Great Pumpkin, even when no one believes him (and most of his friends ditch him so that they can actually have an eventful, trick-or-treat-filled Halloween). Even after he gets Sally to come out to the pumpkin patch with him, only to be verbally assaulted by her after a figure Linus believes to be the Great Pumpkin turns out to be Snoopy, he still believes. Next year, he proclaims, the Great Pumpkin will return, and everyone will be proven wrong.
It's the childlike, unerring faith in the Great Pumpkin that makes the special such a treasured piece of small-scale filmmaking. From an artistic standpoint, there are some beautiful flourishes, like the water-colored background work (particularly in the nighttime scenes) and the scratchy animation style, which instead of looking cheap, looks intentional and therefore charming, but what makes this Halloween joint such a kick is its heart. A seasonal classic sprinkled with just the right amount of melancholy and surprise, this one is still worth a spin every Halloween.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown' makes its high-deifnition debut on a 25 GB Blu-ray disc. Additionally, there is a DVD, with all the extra features. The disc is region free. It's packaging is especially orange.
This classic television special hits Blu-ray in a 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer (aspect ratio: 1.37:1).
The increased detail here certainly amplifies the loveably hand-made quality of the image: there's extra grain, and you can practically tell which colored pencil they used for some line-work or shade job.
There aren't any technical issues, either. No artifacts, banding, or compression snafus. It stands to reason that you're going to be seeing 'It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown' in an even better presentation than when it originally aired in 1966. That said, it's still a not-all-that-impressive transfer. File this under "good, not great."
Faring slightly better is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio mix, but, again, don't expect anything exceptional.
The mix is mostly front-loaded, with the dialogue sounding fairly crisp and clear. In terms of surround support, there's not much to speak of, besides the dazzling score by Vince Guaraldi, which does get some rear-channel optimization. Beyond that, it's a steady-as-she-goes, front-supported affair.
Just like the video, the 5.1 treatment seems like an odd bag, since it isn't exactly optimized for home theater support. This would have been just fine in stereo, or with its original mono (maybe simply as an option), because it's not like you're getting all that much out of the more broad 5.1 presentation.
Again: good, not great.
The disc also includes a Spanish Dolby Digital Mono track, as well as subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
All of the special features on this Blu-ray disc were previously available on the DVD release from a few years ago (said DVD release is the second disc of this set). They're not all that impressive. Cue the "sad Charlie Brown" music.
Yes, 'It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,' is fun to watch every Halloween. Just ask yourself if this short feature is worth the relatively high price to own this new high-definition incarnation. For me, the answer is no, but serious fans will likely feel otherwise. 'The Great Pumpkin' is totally charming, but there's very little on this disc aside from the slightly better video and audio. If you're a huge Peanuts/'Great Pumpkin' fan, then you should probably rush out and grab it, since I'm sure it's the best the special has looked or sounded since 1966. Others may just want to wait for the annual broadcast on TV. This is for fans only.