Review by KC Carlson
Collecting the first six Peanuts TV specials from the 1960s, The Peanuts 1960’s Collection is a wonderful collection for the casual Peanuts fan, collecting several of the best of the long-running series of animated specials. However, it’s a frustrating package for the Peanuts animated collector, as it tantalizingly offers up some as yet unreleased (in the Warner Bros.-produced series anyway) early specials and an superb new documentary on musician Vince Guaraldi, yet it fails to collect previously issued features about some of the previously released specials.
Two of the series’ classic episodes — A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown — have been previously issued as their own individual DVDs, as well as also being made available in the Peanuts Deluxe Holiday Collection. Unfortunately, the two great documentaries on the making of these classic holiday specials are not included on this set.
(signed) Little Red-Haired Girl
Also on this set (and previously released as a bonus episode on the Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown DVD) is the fourth Peanuts special You’re In Love, Charlie Brown, originally broadcast on June 12, 1967. Ah, unrequited love. This one is, of course, all about Charlie Brown’s long-held crush on the Little Red-Haired Girl and his desperate attempts to actually talk to her on the last two days of the school year. As in the comic strip — from which this special’s script is largely adapted — we don’t actually see the LRHG (as yet, unnamed), but her presence is everywhere. However, there are two major firsts in the special: the first on-screen appearance of Peppermint Patty (as a clueless matchmaker for both Charlie Brown and Lucy) and the first use of the “Mwa-Mwa-Mwa” sound effect used for adults in the animated series (actually a trombonist speaking through a muted trombone).
As a 10-year-old watching this on TV in its original airing, I totally related to Charlie Brown’s predicament in dealing with the opposite sex. As a 50+-year-old man, I alternately wanted to sit him down for a long talk (which, of course, would have done no good) or wanted to pick him up and shake him for being such a blockhead! This was a tough one to watch, as it’s mostly about watching Poor Ol’ Charlie Brown fumble with feelings he doesn’t fully understand. It’s not one of the more laugh-packed entries in the series, although it does have one of my favorite gags in all of Peanuts: A frustrated Lucy takes out her rage against Schroeder’s indifference toward her own crush on him by smashing his piano to bits with a bust of his idol Beethoven, leaving both in shambles. Calmly, Schroeder gets up and walks to a closet, where we discover that he’s got dozens of toy pianos stacked up inside — and then, he proceeds to another closet filled with Beethoven busts. He grabs one of each and sits back down and serenely starts playing again, as if this happens every day. And knowing Lucy, it probably does.
The special also features a cute theme song, sung by the West Hillsborough School Choir, which is later turned against Charlie Brown as a mocking song sung by Lucy and Violet. There’s also a weird, memorable scene of Linus and Sally sliding down what seems like the world’s longest slide. My nit-pick: Who would sign a note “(signed) Little Red-Haired Girl”? That’s like me signing all my correspondence or reviews “(signed) Overweight Shaggy Guy”.
“YOU SCOUTED YOUR OWN TEAM!!”
The remaining three episodes on the box set are making their remastered Warner DVD debut, including the second Peanuts special, Charlie Brown’s All-Stars, which originally aired on June 8, 1966. One of the more plot-heavy (and angst-ridden) of the specials, it revolves around the kids’ baseball team (which frequently loses 123-0) and the strengths and weaknesses of Charlie Brown as their manager (usually the latter). I won’t give away all of the plot, but after their most recent depressing loss, the team turns in their uniforms (just their baseball caps, as they don’t actually have uniforms) and quits the team, leaving just Charlie Brown. Later he learns that Mr. Hennessey, the owner of the local hardware store, is willing to sponsor them in an actual league — and to supply actual uniforms. After he excitedly tells them the good news, the team warily agrees to re-form. However, after Charlie Brown learns that the league doesn’t allow girls or dogs (Snoopy, of course, is their most competent player, at shortstop), he reluctantly tells Mr. Hennessey that he can’t abandon his team and must decline the offer of sponsorship.
Being Charlie Brown, he can’t face telling the team the bad news, so he hopes that their excitement about the uniforms will propel them to winning the next game, which almost works as the team rallies in the ninth inning to tie the ballgame, until Charlie Brown does something Charlie Brown-y, and spectacularly loses the game. And then he’s forced to tell them that there will be no uniforms (but not the reason why) and most of the team quits in disgust.
Everything works out in the end, but not before a lot of teeth gnashing and blanket-rendering. The final scene of Charlie Brown and Linus standing together forlornly on the pitcher’s mound in the pouring rain is one that will burn itself into your memory. Unfortunately, this is not one of the better episodes because of its anger and depression, which was somewhat shocking after the warmth and spirituality of the Christmas special. There are also some unfortunately unflattering in-between shots in this episode, as the animators were still working out the very difficult task of turning Schulz’s 2-D drawings into fully animated characters — a task much harder than you’d think, as the characters never had to turn their heads or move in the static world of comic strips. But that’s just picking nits. It’s still a classic episode, just the tiniest bit harder to watch than others.
“I get the strangest feeling he thinks he’s a soldier on leave in Paris.”
Also new to DVD is He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown, which originally aired on February 14, 1968. This is the first real Snoopy-centric episode of the series, including a return of the “World War I Flying Ace” with the great stylized animation for that and many other fantasy sequences. The title comes from the anguished cry of the Peanuts gang after Snoopy is more mischievous and irritating than usual and Charlie Brown decides to send Snoopy back to the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm for a refresher course in obedience. Since the school is so far away, Charlie Brown arranges for a sleepover at Peppermint Patty’s house for Snoopy, who is walking there. The sleepover turns into a week, as Peppermint Patty keeps serving Snoopy root beer. “He thinks he’s at a resort,” she tells the seldom-seen Roy.
Eventually, the Puppy Farm calls Charlie Brown to inform him that Snoopy never showed up, so, after confirming that Snoopy is still at Peppermint Patty’s, he walks to her house to retrieve Snoopy. He puts him on a leash and takes him home, telling him that he has to wear the leash whenever he wants to leave the yard. But Snoopy hates the leash and has other ideas. After pretending to choke on the leash, he then escapes from Charlie Brown. He flees back to Peppermint Patty’s house, thinking that she’ll continue to wait on him all day long. But Peppermint Patty has other ideas as well, making Snoopy work for the privilege of staying there. She turns into a stern taskmaster, making Snoopy wash dishes, mow the yard, and vacuum the house, among other tasks.
Eventually the other kids, even Lucy, begin to miss Snoopy, so Charlie Brown goes back to Peppermint Patty’s house to retrieve him, but Snoopy goes crazy when Charlie Brown again tries to put on the leash, ripping it to shreds. Peppermint Patty then convinces Charlie Brown to let Snoopy stay there, so he dejectedly goes back home alone. When Peppermint Patty puts Snoopy back to work, he again rebels and starts smashing dishes, forcing Peppermint Patty to lock him in the garage until he calms down. Instead he starts howling in the middle of the night, forcing Peppermint Patty to investigate. As soon as she opens the door, he leaps on her and a furious fight (for Peanuts cartoons) entails. Peppermint Patty is knocked down and Snoopy escapes, runs into the house to pack his stuff and flees into the night, stopping only to don a disguise — his World War I Flying Ace helmet and goggles and a big fake handlebar mustache.
He runs all the way across town, back to his home, and starts kicking the door to Charlie Brown’s house. In one of the few funny moments in this episode, Charlie Brown doesn’t immediately recognize Snoopy, who’s still wearing the ridiculous mustache. But Snoopy quickly removes it, and the two dance and joyously reunite. The next morning, the rest of the gang, including Lucy, is happy to see him back home, yet the peace doesn’t last long. Snoopy soon provokes Lucy into another vicious-looking fight, although all he’s really doing is dancing and licking (kissing) Lucy in-between her frantic punches and jabs.
A very strange episode, although very interesting to watch. Peppermint Patty comes off looking almost villainous. Snoopy, despite all the trauma, doesn’t really learn a thing and quickly reverts back to his disobedient and mischievous ways. Lots of mixed messages here. In fact, some 40 years down the line, watching this episode today is not unlike watching an episode of Seinfeld.
Odd moment: While Snoopy is slaving away doing Peppermint Patty’s chores, she’s in a big easy chair reading a magazine (or comic book). It looks like the back cover of the magazine is an ad for Lucy’s Psychiatric Help booth!
“492 words to go.”
The final new-to-DVD episode is It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown, originally airing on September 27, 1969. The kids are preparing to return to school, and Sally is terrified of starting kindergarten (sort of contradicting an earlier episode which showed Sally practicing for her kindergarten graduation). The older kids’ first assignment is the usual 500 words on what you did this summer. Charlie Brown’s report notably lacks detail (and word count), but Linus’s report cleverly becomes the narration for this flashback-centric special.
Linus is horrified to learn that his sister Lucy has signed everyone up for summer camp, including, amazingly, Snoopy — who pretends to be the camp bus driver in an odd fantasy sequence. (In retrospect, many of Snoopy’s fantasies were pretty trippy. It was the Sixties, after all…) We soon learn one of the reasons for Linus’ horror (besides the usual fear of being chomped by a queen snake): Charlie Brown has been appointed the boy’s tent leader. As usual, he is inept, but it’s not entirely his fault, as the boys all seem to be unfocused and unmotivated and falling all over themselves. They are quickly bested by the girls in every camp sporting event, including swimming, softball, and even campfire songs. The girls are led by co-tent leaders Lucy and Peppermint Patty, the latter running the operation like a drill sergeant. Interestingly, she calls Lucy “Sir” a lot here, a trait later transferred over to Peppermint Patty’s friend Marcie. But then the boys discover a secret weapon — they have a champion level wrist-wrestling expert in their midst (guess who?). Suddenly they suspect that that they can finally get one over on the girls, so the “Masked Marvel” is born and quickly challenges the girls’ best fighter, Lucy, no slouch herself at wrist-wrestling. Who will win this contest of champions? Let’s get ready to rumble!
This was a welcome return to lighter, more humorous episodes, as well as being not so plot-heavy. My favorite site-gag in this episode is Snoopy sleeping on top of a pup tent.
Notably, this is the first episode of the series where most of the original kids’ voices were replaced. This became something of a regular trait for the series, as the producers constantly brought in younger voice actors to replace the kids as they got older (and voices changed). Peter Robbins (voicing Charlie Brown) was the only major holdover from the original cast. (This is his last episode, although he voices Charlie Brown in the film A Boy Named Charlie Brown before he is gone.) One of the new voice actors, Pamelyn Ferdin (Lucy), may sound familiar to many who watched a lot of TV and movies in the 60s and 70s, as she was a very busy child actor, popping up in episodes of The Odd Couple, The Brady Bunch, Lassie, and even an episode of Star Trek.
“He played music like he wanted to breathe oxygen.”
The hidden gem of this collection is the 40-minute documentary Vince Guaraldi: The Maestro of Menlo Park, the story of the man behind the wonderful music in the best of the Peanuts specials and films. Producer Lee Mendelson opens the doc by telling us that he first realized that Guaraldi and Peanuts were perfect for each other when in 1963 he was looking for someone to score a documentary on Charles Schulz. He heard Guaraldi’s hit single “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” (originally a B-side to another single) on the radio and contacted the musician. Guaraldi was so excited by the commission that he wrote and played to Mendelson over the phone just two weeks later the composition that would become his most famous: “Linus and Lucy”, better known to the general public as the “theme” to the Peanuts specials. The public at large wouldn’t hear the song until two years later, when it was presented on the first Peanuts special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, in the memorable dance sequence from that show. Guaraldi went on to score 16 Peanuts specials as well as the feature film A Boy Named Charlie Brown and the unaired documentary of the same name.
The bulk of this documentary has discussions of Guaraldi’s life by noted musicians David Benoit (who was inspired by Guaraldi’s Peanuts’ music to take up jazz and ultimately scored many of the latter-day Peanuts specials), George Winston (also inspired by Guaraldi at an early age, known for the well-regarded tribute album Linus and Lucy: The Music of Vince Guaraldi), jazz vocalist Kitty Margolis, and many of Guaraldi’s former sidemen, including Seward McCain, Vince Lateano, Dean Reilly, Eddie Duran, Jim Zimmerman, Colin Bailey, and Mark Rosengarden. Former Tonight Show band member Peter Woodfield and Guaraldi’s son David also offer remembrances.
There is also some very frank discussion about Guaraldi’s early, unexpected death — he died of a sudden heart attack at age 46, off-stage, while taking a break from a live club performance — as well as the lack of success of the Peanuts specials that were scored by others after his death. His career is largely defined by his Peanuts work, and he devoted the rest of his life to writing, producing, and performing the music for Peanuts after he got the gig in the mid-60s. It’s perfect that his life is being celebrated on a collection devoted to the Peanuts specials of the 1960s. Besides creator Charles Schulz himself, Guaraldi is probably the second most identified person of the whole Peanuts phenomenon through this timeless music, which, like the characters themselves, will live on for a very long time.
Nuts and Bolts
The remastering on both picture and sound on these episodes is quite amazing. There’s an occasional artifact in the picture, but they aren’t distracting, and considering that these films are now over 40 years old (yipes!), they don’t look bad at all. There’s also the occasional odd edit; I’m guessing that most of these were done to excise the mention of the original show sponsor, something that was frequently done on TV shows of these vintage. Unfortunately, there’s some sloppiness on the part of the packaging. The box indicates that Disc 1 includes 4 episodes and Disc 2 features the remaining 2 episodes and the documentary, but the discs themselves are actually configured as 3 episodes per disc (with the doc on Disc 2). Also, there’s a bit of over-enthusiastic hype on the part of the copywriter when the box states that “Disc 2 Includes All-New Content”. As mentioned above, the documentary is “all new”, but the specials themselves are obviously not new since they were created in the 1960s and are now quite middle-aged. I think the slightly less sexy phrase they were looking for should have been “new to DVD”. Good grief! although not earth-shattering.
As I mentioned earlier, I thought the previously released documentaries about the Christmas and Halloween Specials should have been included as well on a collection of this magnitude, and their omission lessens the total package. But bottom line, these are six very important historical animation presentations as well as some of the most beloved cartoons of all time. We can pick nits all day, but this is a great collection to remind everybody what can happen when you include just a little bit of heart in your cartoons.
– (signed) Overweight Shaggy Guy.
(A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the studio.)