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A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Creator:  Charles M. Schulz
Director:  Bill Melendez
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Full Frame 1.37:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  50 Minutes
Release Date:  October 6, 2009

“Of all the Charlie Browns in the world…you’re the Charlie Browniest!”

Film ****

I’m about to enjoy my 40th Christmas on this earth, and I don’t think a single one of them has been celebrated without A Charlie Brown Christmas.

It’s hard to believe looking back on the history of this quintessential holiday tradition, but at the time of its debut in 1965, CBS predicted failure.  The animation wasn’t quite what the studio executives had in mind, nor was the casting of actual children for the character voices instead of adult actors, nor was the jazzy music from legendary Vince Guaraldi. 

This was only a few months after speaking with executive producer Lee Mendelson about bringing Charles M. Schulz’ eternally popular comic strip to the small screen for a Christmas special.  They had very little time to create the special out of nothing, but with Bill Melendez directing and Schulz’ insistence in using the passage from the book of Luke to bring the holiday message home, they made their targeted date.

The studio may have been disappointed, but the fans weren’t.  Families from coast to coast immediately warmed to the fresh, funny, and deeply spiritual offering, and soon after, the special that the suits almost didn’t air would win an Emmy.

The simple story has become a staple…how beloved Charlie Brown seeks out the true meaning of Christmas from his friends (so to speak), his dog Snoopy, directing a Christmas play, and discovering the perfect little tree for the celebration.  

Two aspects that were once considered mistakes have been forever proven wrong…the casting of kids to play the Peanuts characters was the right one; no mimicking adults could have captured the spirit of innocence and the tone that Charles Schulz’ strip was famous for.  And the music has become as much a part of holiday listening as any carol.  Vince Guaraldi’s inimitable score, featuring the highly recognized “Linus and Lucy”, is the perfect jazzy accompaniment to both the television special and Christmas in general.

All elements combine in a formula that has never grown old, nor have audiences grown tired of.  And kids everywhere look forward every year to Santa, trees, turkey, and A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Even those of us kids who have spent four decades with it.

BONUS TRIVIA:  In the early part, when Snoopy sends Charlie Brown and Linus flying off the ice, you see where Charlie Brown ends up...ever wonder what happened to Linus?  He originally landed at the foot of a Coca-Cola sign, who was the sponsor of the program when it premiered!

Video ***1/2

I have to say, I’m most impressed with this Warner offering, considering the age of the program and that it was made for television.  Blu-ray really brings out the vibrant colors of the animation.  Yes, there are occasional marks and specks associated with aging, but really, I’ve never seen this show look better.

Audio ***

You wouldn’t think that a 45 year old television special would benefit from a high definition surround sound makeover, but you’d be surprised.  No, there’s not a lot of use of surround channels, but Vince Guaraldi’s music is the real beneficiary…on some of the tunes, the bass sounds clearer and deeper than ever before.  Spoken words are clean and clear, and while dynamic range is minimal by the nature of the program, this is still a most pleasantly surprising listen.

Features **

The best extra is the inclusion of the 80s special It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown…not quite the staying power of the original, but still plenty of charm, cheer and humor, and with David Benoit bringing Guaraldi’s music to a more modern life.  The other extra is the featurette “A Christmas Miracle”, which looks back at the making of this timeless classic.  This Blu-ray also comes with a bonus DVD copy and a digital copy for your portable media devices.

Summary:

I’ve loved this special ever since I was just a small boy mesmerized by flickering images on the screen, and it remains the first program I look for year after year.  My season isn’t complete without A Charlie Brown Christmas, and now, thanks to this wonderful Blu-ray release, I know I’ll never be without it.

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