TV on DVD: Peanuts 1960s Collection

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Like many from his generation, my grandfather's favorite topic seems to be his days serving in the Navy during World War II but every so often, he'll get a bit misty recalling his childhood growing up in St. Paul, where casually one day he mentioned that his classmate-- a boy he called "Chuck"-- went onto become Charles M. Schulz, arguably the most famous American comic strip creator of the twentieth century. And when pressed, my soft-spoken grandfather just said that Chuck was a quiet boy who didn't say much but even in kindergarten he recalled that he often drew pictures and mentioned that he seemed kind of lost in his own thoughts.

Although a kindergarten pupil who tuned out his teacher in favor of a sketch pad and a trusty number two pencil is nothing new, Schulz's thoughts and fascination regarding childhood or more accurately coming-of-age in an increasingly commercial society where the next generation knew more than they perhaps were given credit for-- made his Peanuts comic strip a favorite. Eventually it also moved from print to television in the 1960s with these six beautifully remastered, timeless specials painstakingly preserved and priced to beat by Warner Brothers.

Offering the Peabody award-winning one that started it all via 1965's beautifully touching yet unabashedly melancholic A Charlie Brown Christmas that bravely fused Vince Guarardi's unique brand of jazz and unforgettable "Skating" and "Linus and Lucy" themes into the series, this two disc chronological set comes just off the heels of another impressive DVD release from the studio in the form of Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection.

Rivaling Disney for the most dynamic classic offerings from way back into the histories of their impressive archives here in 2009 (yet curiously unlike the House of Mouse, ignoring Blu-ray for some of these extraordinary titles), Peanuts 1960s Collection also arrives after Warner Brothers released some of the works individually last fall for the holidays including the aforementioned Christmas as well as perhaps Halloween's most in-demand title of It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

However, ensuring that consumers aren't just repeating the same purchase, this set stays true to the chronology and remains firmly rooted in the '60s so those looking for some of the other installments created over five decades and more than forty works will want to read the listings carefully but what we do have here is quite a treat as in addition to Christmas and Pumpkin, it also reunited me with two I hadn't seen in long while-- Charlie Brown's All-Stars and You're In Love, Charlie Brown (which is actually on Disc 2 and not 1 despite the box's content explanations).

Like the rest of the titles, both specials received Emmy nominations but were intriguing to see Brown's interaction (or rather lack thereof) with females other than Lucy-- that tough-minded business woman in training who ran the forever lucrative psychiatric booth charging a nickel paid up front for advice regarding depression and mental anguish.

In All-Stars, baseball team manager Brown realizes that instead of fair weather fans, the Peanuts gang are fair weather players so when he and Linus try to enlist the aid of a sponsor and shiny new uniforms to boost morale, they're crushed when they learn it would come at the cost of cutting the female teammates as well as Snoopy since it's against "league" policy.

Not wanting to leave out any of his friends including the tough, wise-behind-her-years Peppermint Patty (whom, much like Linus I came to appreciate on a much greater level this time around), Brown stands by his friends and hopes that the group who routinely calls him a blockhead will do the same.

Falling in love with a "little red-haired girl," on the second to the last day of school but unable to speak to a female with a pretty face-- Charlie Brown experiences his first pangs of hormones in a wicked crush as he worries that if he doesn't act soon he'll risk not seeing the girl until the start of the next school year. Sadly never going as far as to even covertly find out from a friend what her name could possibly be, he obsesses over "the little red-haired girl" to romantic tragicomic effect in the unexpectedly relatable You're In Love, Charlie Brown which at last sees our admittedly sad-sack hero beginning to grow up and look past the Peanut gallery.

Further heightening the remastered collection which boasts high quality picture and sound, WB adds in two specials previously unavailable on DVD including the delightfully funny Emmy nominated Snoopy-centric He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown which finds an out-of-control Snoopy taking a "vacation" at Peppermint Patty's on the way back for refresher course training at the puppy farm and the cliched "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" but entertaining final episode of the '60s-- It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown from 1969.

And in addition to celebrating the works which have never looked clearer-- especially when viewed in an upconvert-equipped Blu-ray player-- which consisted of reliving the forgotten classics of All-Stars and You're In Love along with finding a new favorite of He's Your Dog, this time around from the moment the first disc opened with the Christmas special, I couldn't help but realize just how perfectly every single action was married with the pitch-perfect music by jazz pianist and composer Vince Guaraldi.

Now part of our pop culture given that some of his pieces from A Charlie Brown Christmas were worked into Wes Anderson's Royal Tenenbaums and you can hear his influences on certain animated scores-- it was wonderful to listen again to the compositions as they were first used with the animation-- especially considering the fascinating (if slightly meandering and long) documentary extra feature included on the second disc focuses exclusively on Guaraldi dubbed The Maestro of Menlo Park.

Chronicling the moment that longtime Peanuts TV special producer Lee Mendelson heard Guaraldi's award-winning composition "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" on the radio, stopped his car, called a music critic to ask who performed the work, then heard him play "Linus and Lucy" over the phone for the first time for a documentary that was never made-- it's a moving tribute to the musician and just how important the music was to the success of those television specials.

For, instead of just moving a comic strip to TV and adding a canned laugh track or the bare minimum of music-- the grand orchestrations of the jazz infused (and sometimes Brazilian samba laced scores) in which even jokes were made from musical notes like the voices of indecipherable teachers-- all helped elevate Schulz's Peanuts. And thus in a way, it gave us additional first-person subconscious insight into the boy named Chuck who was lost in thought and loved to draw.

The Peanuts Creator Charles M. Schulz

The Music of Vince Guaraldi

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