Since 1950, Charles Schulz' Peanuts has remained a popular and enduring franchise celebrating the life and times of Charlie Brown and company. This lovable loser, always clad in his trademark yellow and black shirt, has been the centerpiece of a long-running comic strip and appeared in countless animated full-length films and shorter TV specials. For the most part, these animated specials were based on original Peanuts comic strips, which were fleshed out to create 25-minute adventures. Featuring simple yet charming animation, a cast of child voice actors and music by Vince Guaraldi (until his death in 1976, though his music was often used posthumously), Peanuts animated specials have become a staple of American television for decades. Peanuts: The 1960s Collection is a sleek new two-disc set from Warner Bros.; it rounds up the first six specials and blesses each one with a remastered technical presentation.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) is the one that got the snowball rolling, so it's no surprise that the 60-odd Peanuts specials that followed it owe their existence to this touching, poignant masterpiece. In what would later become a tradition of sorts, animator Bill Melendez worked closely with Schulz and producer Lee Mendelson to develop the story and iron out the visuals. The animation was hardly groundbreaking (due to a rushed production and limited budget), but the end result was a critical and commercial smash. Finally, the pitch-perfect soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi---featuring the debut of Peanuts' unofficial theme music, "Linus and Lucy"---sets the tone perfectly, rounding out this 25-minute miracle with a perfect balance of sadness and spirit. Peanuts specials don't get any better than this.
Charlie Brown's All-Stars (1966, at top) moves away from a holiday atmosphere and on to more familiar Peanuts territory: the baseball field. After ol' Chuck's team gets slaughtered by triple digits, they're looking to retire early...that is, until a local businessman offers to sponsor the team and buy new uniforms. Spirits are high, but Charlie Brown turns down the offer because of certain stipulations---and he doesn't tell the team right away, in hopes that they'll play better. Chuck shoulders much of the blame after word finally gets out, but Linus helps the team come to terms with their faithful manager. All-Stars is a decent follow-up to the Christmas special...but it's hardly a home run, mostly due to the limited animation (the opposing team is never seen, which really detracts from the excitement).
It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966) was the third Peanuts animated adventure unleashed on the general public, and it doubled as a confirmation of the franchise's enduring success. This Halloween staple exhibits all the strengths that gave the Peanuts specials such undeniable staying power: a simple but charming style, bold colors, a timeless score by Vince Guaraldi...and of course, Charlie Brown's unyielding pathos. Snoopy even gets involved, in what might be the most unusual holiday sub-plot of all time. All things considered, this slice of animated magic remains as compelling as ever---and without a doubt, The Great Pumpkin will entertain future generations, whether it's viewed on Halloween night or a humid summer afternoon. On to Disc 2!
You're in Love, Charlie Brown (1967) piles on plenty more Peanuts pathos, as ol' Chuck pines for a little red-haired girl in his class. There's only one problem: as the end of school approaches, there's no chance he'll get to see her over the summer. True to form, Chuck has the worst day of his life and embarrasses himself consistently (example: he sharpens a ball-point pen). With a last-second burst of luck, however, Charlie Brown manages a minor victory amidst potential disaster. Though the cliffhanger makes everything feel a bit anti-climactic, You're In Love is one of the better non-holiday Peanuts specials in the Schulz back catalogue. This one also marks the animated debut of Peppermint Patty, for those keeping score at home.
He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown (1968, above right) takes a decidedly different approach than most Peanuts shorts. After a stretch of bad behavior, Charlie Brown sends Snoopy back to the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm for a much-needed refresher in discipline. The rambunctious pup crashes at Peppermint Patty's for the evening---but stays there for the long haul instead, living selfishly without pulling his own weight. After Patty puts the kibosh on Snoopy's antics, he's got to make a life-changing decision: should he tough it out, or return home to his master? Featuring less Charlie Brown than usual (and thus, less self-pity and depression), He's Your Dog offers a welcome change of pace that holds up nicely.
It Was A Short Summer, Charlie Brown (1969, above left) is the sixth Peanuts special and the last of the decade. Told in a curious flashback format (a first for the animated franchise), we catch up with the gang at summer camp after Lucy signs everyone up...and it's business as usual for Charlie Brown, whose situation keeps getting worse. From terrible food to a series of dismal defeats at the hands of the girls' team, ol' Chuck and his band of merry men eventually turn to The Masked Marvel (in his first of many animated appearances), who just might defeat Lucy in a wrist-wrestling contest. With their gender's pride at stake, this monumental championship proves to a real nail-biter. It's a decent end to the first half-dozen Peanuts specials, though not without a few missteps along the way.
Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, all six of these specials are on par with Warners' recent Deluxe Editions; in fact, many Peanuts fans have already seen how great A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's The Great Pumpkin look in comparison to Paramount's previous releases. The other four look just as good overall, boasting vivid color palettes, solid black levels and strong image detail. As expected, digital problems---including compression artifacts, interlacing and edge enhancement---aren't an issue at all. To make a long story short, fans won't find much to complain about here.
Though not quite as noticeable as the visual improvements, the audio treatments are satisfying in their own right. Presented in the original Dolby Digital Mono (also available in Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese dubs), the dialogue and music cues are generally crisp and clear. Very slight amounts of hiss and crackling can be heard along the way, but this is undoubtedly due to the source material. One curious note, however: the volume on the main menu, main features and bonus material is a bit low overall, at least in comparison with the studio logo and forced trailers. Optional English, Spanish, French, Japanese, Portuguese and Thai subtitles are included during the main features only.
This featurette is presented in letterboxed widescreen format, but only the actual shorts include optional subtitles and captions. When a studio bothers with multiple sets of subtitles during most of the content, why not go the whole way?
In what looks to be the start of a very welcome trend, Peanuts: The 1960s Collection presents the first six Schulz specials in a simple, slimmed-down two-disc set. Though the lack of a few Deluxe Edition bonus features is unfortunate, this is an economical starting point for fans of all ages---and while A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's the Great Pumpkin will undoubtedly be the selling points for casual fans, the remastered lesser-seen adventures are more than just icing on the cake. The bonus Guaraldi featurette is another highlight, rounding out this low-priced collection quite nicely; compared to the Deluxe Editions, it's a steal at less than $30. Peanuts: The 1960s Collection comes Highly Recommended for all audiences, whether this is a blind buy or you know them all by heart.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.