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 1970s Collection, Volume 1 continues the trend set by The 1960s Collection, pairing six vintage specials with remastered technical presentations.
Play It Again, Charlie Brown (1971) is new to Region 1 DVD---and though it's amusing at times, this isn't a prime example of Peanuts at its best. Revolving almost completely around Lucy's infatuation with Schroeder, this music-driven adventure features a surprise or two along the way. After setting up Schroeder's first public recital with the help of Peppermint Patty, Lucy recruits Charlie Brown's jazz combo (what the...?) to spice things up a bit. After Schroeder reluctantly accepts, he seems to have trouble blending his classical style with the more popular sounds of jazz and rock. The music lover in me enjoyed this one on the surface, but Play It Again may be a bit too uneven for most Peanuts fans. Lucy's voice is supplied by Pamelyn Ferdin (also featured on A Boy Named Charlie Brown), but her mature style seems out of place here...and speaking of "out of place", this Peanuts outing also features a rare instance of non-muted-trumpet adult voices. Shocking!
You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown (1972) is a much more even-handed and traditional Peanuts adventure. The election for Student Body President is fast approaching, and Linus convinces Charlie Brown that he'd make a good candidate---that is, until Lucy shoots down his hopes after conducting a quick opinion poll. It's soon decided that Linus will run instead, thanks to his sister's bully tactics and his passionate speeches about change for the better. His opponent, Russell Anderson, seems like a decent enough guy...but Linus' surging popularity all but secures a win as they prepare for their big speeches in the auditorium. Unfortunately, Linus' "religious beliefs" almost doom his chances after he abruptly mentions a certain Peanuts holiday figure, which evens out the opinion polls as election day draws near. Will Russell score an surprise victory...or will Linus manage to keep the lead and, more importantly, make the changes he's been promising? One of the most underrated gems in the Peanuts catalog, it's a politically-charged nail-biter.
There's No Time For Love, Charlie Brown (1973, seen at top) is another lesser-seen gem, balancing the rigors of elementary school with Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty's rocky relationship. Curiously enough, this adventure begins with nearly 10 minutes of rapid-fire school sequences---and though the series' four-panel roots have never been more evident, the format works perfectly. Eventually, the class trip is underway, but Charlie Brown and company end up taking a tour of the supermarket instead of the next-door art gallery. Ol' Chuck's entire grade hinges on the field trip report he's about to write...but since he never set foot inside the art gallery, it looks like he'll have to fake his way through. This charming adventure also features the first animated appearance of Marcy, Peppermint Patty's dutiful sidekick...and a few moments of potential romance, just for good measure.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973) is easily the "heavyweight" of the bunch here; along with A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's The Great Pumpkin, it's one of the most enduring Peanuts specials to date. As if a recap is needed: this one centers around an impromptu dinner suggested by Peppermint Patty, who invites herself (and a few friends) over to Charlie Brown's house. Chuck and Sally are due at Grandma's later in the afternoon for a family celebration, so the last-minute spread consists of jellybeans, toast, pretzels and popcorn (prepped by Snoopy, who also brawls with lawn furniture); needless to say, Patty's none too pleased about the lack of turkey and mashed potatoes. Luckily, all is not lost: Grandma saves the day by inviting the gang over for dinner, ruining the canine's culinary efforts in a matter of minutes. In a shocking turn of events, Snoopy gets even by whipping a turkey out of his doghouse and feasting with a cannibalistic Woodstock.
It's A Mystery, Charlie Brown (1974, above left) is also new to Region 1 DVD and focuses on Snoopy and Woodstock, who were already given plenty of face time during the last special. This time around, Woodstock's carefully-built nest has gone missing after a fierce rainstorm, leaving the little yellow bird homeless. Snoopy takes action Sherlock-style, beating down doors to get down to the bottom of this mystery---but with only a few footprints as clues, it might take longer than he thought. It's a pleasing little story...but the ever-rotating cast of voice actors isn't especially strong this time around, notably the role of Peppermint Patty (here voiced by Donna Forman). Her cops-and-robbers scene with Snoopy already seems out of place, but Forman's vocal style is especially tough to get used to after hearing Christopher DeFarina during the last two adventures.
It's The Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown (1974, above right) is another well-rounded holiday adventure, but it's still not considered part of "The Big Three". Our story mainly centers around Linus' belief in The Easter Beagle, though Sally and a few others feel like they're in for a repeat of The Great Pumpkin. Elsewhere, Marcy and Peppermint Patty attempt to decorate eggs, while frequent trips to the grocery store bring the whole gang together a few times. It's a solid little story and one of the more underrated in Schulz' back catalog, but one thing continues to bother me: Linus never attempts to convey the true meaning of Easter, not even once. Quite surprising, given the outcomes of the Christmas and Thanksgiving specials. In any case, this lighthearted story still manages to entertain, and it's a great way to close out this collection of vintage Peanuts specials.
Presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratios, most of these six animated specials are on par with Warners' recent Deluxe Editions; in fact, many Peanuts fans have already seen how great You're Not Elected and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving look in comparison to Paramount's previous releases. The other four look good as well, boasting vivid color palettes, solid black levels and strong image detail. Unfortunately, some digital issues are present this time around: Play It Again and There's No Time For Love, both new to Region 1 DVD, are not progressively sourced and exhibit moderate amounts of digital combing from start to finish. This is slightly disappointing, especially since the other four (and the entire Peanuts 1960s Collection) are virtually problem-free...but it isn't a deal-breaker, since Peanuts specials aren't known for non-stop, fast-moving action. Let's hope that Warner Bros. is a bit more careful in the future.
Though not quite as noticeable as the visual improvements, the audio treatments are also 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. Optional English, Spanish, French, Japanese, Portuguese and Thai subtitles are included during the main features, but the extras are a different story (more on that later).
Also included this time around are two Download Codes for "Thanksgiving Theme" and "Charlie's Blues", a pair of musical numbers from Charlie Brown's Holiday Hits. These are printed on the interior insert and available via iTunes only.
The bonus featurette is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen...but oddly enough, English and French subtitles are not included during this extra (the other five languages are, though). So close, and yet so far.
Continuing the tradition started by Peanuts: The 1960s Collection, this volume brings together the next six Peanuts specials in one handy 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 Thanksgiving may be the selling point for casual fans, the remastered lesser-seen adventures are more than just icing on the cake. Compared to the Deluxe Editions, this is a steal at less than $30...but the lack of a few more extras and the slightly problematic transfers on Play It Again and It's A Mystery brings it down slightly. Still, Peanuts: The 1970s Collection, Volume 1 comes firmly 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.