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Saturday, September 12, 2015


If you still wax nostalgic over those wonderful old prime-time "Peanuts" specials, you may want to check out the 2-disc DVD set from Warner Home Entertainment, PEANUTS: EMMY® HONORED COLLECTION, which contains eleven half-hour cartoons from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. 

All are Emmy nominees (two are winners), and each one features that familiar crude drawing style and limited animation that have somehow always been ideal for bringing Charles Schulz's "Peanuts" comic strip to life. 

These later cartoons, however, tend to lack that sweet, indefinable magic that the earlier classics such as "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1965) and "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" (1966) had in such abundance.  Most also lack the delightful cool jazz music by Vince Guaraldi that most people know by heart.

The plots (all written by Schulz) tend to meander somewhat and are often rather sitcom-like compared to the richness of the earlier stories and characterizations.  The best ones stick close to home and explore familiar situations that both kids and adults can identify with.

Taken on their own, these cartoons all get at least an A for effort and are more easygoing, good-natured, and positive than most of the stuff being made for children today. And at their best, they manage to achieve moments that are genuinely moving and even profound.

In "You're the Greatest, Charlie Brown", Charlie Brown enters the Junior Olympics but is stuck competing in the most difficult event--the Decathlon--with the whole school depending on him to win.  With the help of trainer Peppermint Patty and her assistant Marcie, plus Snoopy as surprise contestant The Masked Marvel, Charlie's dogged effort to exceed expectations is matched only by Schulz's earnest attempts to wring laughs out of the situation.

Yet another sports-competition story, "She's a Good Skate, Charlie Brown" boasts some lovely moments with Peppermint Patty gliding around on the ice (actual skaters' movements were studied by the animators) although plotwise not much happens. 

"It's Magic, Charlie Brown" finds Charlie Brown insisting that Snoopy go to the library and check out some books to read. One of them is a book on magic, and before you know it Snoopy is putting on his own magic show as The Great Houndini.  During the show he makes Charlie Brown disappear but forgets how to bring him back. 

"Someday You’ll Find Her, Charlie Brown" is one of those unrequited love tales with Charlie Brown falling for a little girl he sees during a football game on TV.  Enlisting Linus' help he tracks her down but is shocked when she and Linus are instantly smitten with each other. 

"Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown?" is the only one of these that I remember seeing first-run, and it's the first time I noticed the animators beginning to show random adults interacting with the kids, which just doesn't work. (Before, adults were represented only by the off-screen bleating of brass instruments.)  The story of Charlie Brown's best friends Linus and Lucy moving away has much potential that isn't really explored--a plot detour in which Peppermint Patty tries to get romantic with "Chuck" in her own clumsy way takes up much of the running time after the departure of the Van Pelts.

Snoopy joins the circus in "Life is a Circus, Charlie Brown", a largely forgettable entry.  Next, however, is the remarkable "What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?" which finds the gang as exchange students in France.  After the usual comical misadventures they suddenly find themselves on Omaha Beach.  With a somber Linus gravely recounting the story of the D-Day invasion, this tribute to WWII veterans manages to achieve a profundity that I found both surprising and deeply moving.  Score a big A+ for Schulz and company for this one, although strangely enough it isn't one of the Emmy winners.

Finally, an episode that gets back to basics with the kids in their familiar habitats (home, school, neighborhood, etc.) with "It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown."  It's sorta plotless, and is basically a series of music videos each celebrating a particular character in song-and-dance style, but it's fun.  I especially enjoyed "The Pigpen Hoedown."

"Snoopy's Getting Married, Charlie Brown" is the one I enjoyed the least, partly because the story of Charlie Brown and his friends throwing an elaborate wedding for Snoopy and a poodle in his backyard is pretty dumb, and partly because guest-star Spike, Snoopy's scraggly desert-rat brother, is one of my least favorite Peanuts characters.  I found this one a chore to endure.

"Why, Charlie Brown, Why?" is another one that mixes random silliness with a solemn subject, this time with Linus' friend Janice being diagnosed with leukemia.  A couple of scenes showing her dealing with the disease and Linus' reactions to it are truly touching.  "You're a Good Sport, Charlie Brown" wraps up the set with Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty entering a motocross contest. 

The 2-disc set from Warner Home Entertainment is in the original standard format with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in various languages.  There are no bonus features.

After the first few initial "Peanuts" cartoons which appealed to both kids and adults, they gradually started being aimed chiefly toward younger viewers with plots that included more fanciful elements.  As such, kids should get a kick out of PEANUTS: EMMY® HONORED COLLECTION, especially the cartoons in the set which focus on everyday problems and situations that they can relate to. 
Buy it at the
Street date: Sept. 15, 2015


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