First things first – this disc is identical to the release that Paramount put out in 2001, right down to the menu screens and the packaging. If you have that disc, keep moving, there's nothing to see here. If you don't, and you dig what is arguably the finest Halloween special of all time, then read on…
It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown:
The third animated Peanuts television special (which originally aired in 1966) follows the exploits of Charlie Brown and his friends. When it starts, Lucy and her younger brother Linus are carrying home a pumpkin to carve while everyone else is getting their costumes ready for the big night – Halloween. Everyone, that is, except Linus. Instead of heading out in a costume to go trick or treating, Linus is writing a letter to 'The Great Pumpkin' in hopes that he'll be able to convince him to rise out of his mystical pumpkin patch that night and deliver the mother-load of toys to all those who believe in him.
The problem is, no one believes in him. Except Linus.
The kids all tease him and make fun of him and his sister just tries to ignore it all but Linus finally manages to get Charlie Brown to listen to him and he tries to explain his stance on things so that at least one person won't assume that he's completely nuts. Charlie Brown isn't convinced, however, and he doesn't much care as he's been invited to a Halloween party for the first time in his life. On the other hand though is Charlie Brown's little sister, Sally, who has a serious crush on Linus which puts her at a bit of a crossroads – does she go out trick or treating for the first time with the rest of the kids or does she hang out in the pumpkin patch all night with Linus, her sweetie pie?
The whole half hour special is just insanely cute. Not cute in the crappy kind of way, but cute in the really cool and completely nostalgic kind of way. The kind of cute that doesn't make you gag but which makes you feel good inside and which makes you a little bit happier for having experienced it. Watching It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is akin to hanging out with a playful puppy – it's always fun and it never gets tiresome.
The running gags in this one are quite clever. It's funny to check out the various costumes, or more accurately the lack of variety in the costumes, as the kids head out from door to door in search of free candy. Not everyone gets what they want at every stop, with a certain character famously getting a rock in his bag more than once. While all of this is going on, Snoopy is of course trying to once again defeat the Red Baron. While it doesn't really tie into the main story all that well, some of us never get tired of seeing a beagle imagining himself as a World War One fighter ace for some reason.
In terms of how the special looks, the animation is very much in keeping with the look of Charles Schulz's original comic strip. Some of the plot points that the special was based on have been altered a bit but the look is definitely there and there's quite a bit of nice detail (or is it nostalgic charm?) present in the hand drawn animation that seems absent from a lot of the computer animated cartoons that are so popular today. At any rate, the jokes are still funny, the characters are still fun, and everything is still way too cute (yes, cute!) and because of that It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is still great.
You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown!:
The second feature on this disc is definitely a lesser entry in the Peanuts pantheon which is probably why it's relegated to second feature status and mentioned only in a small blurb on the cover rather than on the actual artwork for this DVD instead. Regardless, it's vintage Peanuts from 1972 and even if it isn't a highpoint it does have its moments.
When it comes time to elect a new class president, Linus nominates Charlie Brown, but soon enough Lucy makes herself the self appointed campaign manager for the election and she opts to have a poll for the class to decide who should run. Of course, Lucy's poll shows Charlie Brown as the clear loser in the race in order to get her brother, Linus, to run instead. Linus' campaign seems to be running smoothly until it comes time for the big class debate at which point Linus has to wrestle with what to talk about and how to talk about it – as with all political races, there's no pleasing everybody all of the time and Linus is about to learn this the hard way when he has to run against Russell.
The highlight of this entry isn't the main story so much as it is the 'Joe Cool' musical number in which Snoopy puts on his sunglasses and tries to get himself into the classroom without being caught. Other than that, some of the interplay between Lucy and Charlie Brown is as good as it always is and Linus makes for a likeable candidate even if it's obvious that he's kind of been thrust into this by Lucy rather than by his own devices.
Seeing as these were originally intended for television broadcast, it shouldn't surprise anyone to find out that they are presented in fullframe, which his the way that they were meant to be seen. Picture quality is decent enough on both of the features considering that they are older cartoons but they definitely aren't reference quality. The DVD does bring out some of the flaws in the older bits, but those are inherent in the source material and you can't really fault Paramount for that, even if it's fun to try. Colors are quite nice and there aren't any compression issues worth noting, just a little bit of edge enhancement here and there.
Both features are presented in rather plain sounding Dolby Digital Stereo mixes. They get the job done well enough, but they sound a little bit flat. I didn't expect them to sound like Terminator 3 but it would have been nice to hear them with slightly livelier sound mixes than what Paramount has supplied us with here. Average at best.
Sadly, aside from scene selection, there are no features at all on this release.
It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown remains a beloved Halloween classic because it's fun, it's funny, it's cute, and it's just really well done. Kids of all ages can enjoy it just as easily today as they could in 1966 and it really has stood the test of time. The second feature isn't as good but it's still worth a look and despite the fact that the presentation could have been better, this release still comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.