Charles Schultz first brought his legendary comic strip to TV in 1965 with the animated special A Charlie Brown Christmas, directed and produced by Bill Melendez. It was the first of dozens of half-hour shows and the elements are all in place in the legendary Christmas special: The simple animation that brought Schultz’s distinctive style to life, the non-professional cast of adolescent voice actors, the great jazz piano scores of Vince Guaraldi, and of course the defining sensibility of Schultz’s comic strips, popular art and offbeat humor rife with psychological discussions and social satire and the existential angst of a bald boy blockhead named Charlie Brown. (The “wah-wah-wah” horn for the adult voices came in subsequent cartoons.)
Charles Schultz wrote six animated “Peanuts” specials in the 1960s and they are all collected in this two disc set. A Charlie Brown Christmas, a funny and tender and joyous celebration of the holiday spirit and still one of the most beloved Christmas specials, headlines the collection on the first disc. It’s a distinctive special that still delights after forty years, from Lucy’s lemonade stand psychiatric practice to Schroeder picking out “Jingle Bells” on his toy grand piano to Linus’ moving oration at the Christmas show rehearsal. Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown. The first disc that also features Charlie Brown’s All-Stars, where Charlie Brown is offered team uniforms but only if he kicks Snoopy and the girls off the team, and the beloved and hilarious It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, where Linus spends the evening in the pumpkin patch and Charlie Brown gets a sack full of rocks.
The second disc features the second-tier cartoons You’re In Love, Charlie Brown (where he falls in love with the Little Red Haired Girl), He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown (Snoopy sets off for obedience training and instead moves in with Peppermint Patty) and It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown (the gang goes to summer camp) plus the 37-minute documentary featurette Vince Guaraldi: The Maestro of Menlo Park, a portrait of the jazz pianist and composer whose bouncy riffs and happy-sad themes defined the shows musically. Along with the music from the show, there’s plenty of Guaraldi’s jazz trio work (including his pre-“Peanuts” signature tune “Cast Your Fate to the Wind”) and we learn that it was Guaraldi himself who came up with the muted horn for the adult voices in the show.