A Boy Named Charlie Brown Blu-ray Review

Charming animated film doesn't get the high def transfer it deserves. 3 Stars

After a series of award-winning television specials and an off-Broadway musical that ran for years, Charlie Brown and his Peanuts gang finally came to the big screen in A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969)
Released: 04 Dec 1969
Rated: G
Runtime: 86 min
Director: Bill Melendez
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama
Cast: Peter Robbins, Pamelyn Ferdin, Glenn Gilger, Andy Pforsich
Writer(s): Charles M. Schulz (created by), Charles M. Schulz
Plot: Charlie Brown makes his way to the national spelling bee finals.
IMDB rating: 7.4
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: CBS
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: G
Run Time: 1 Hr. 25 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case in a slipcover
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 09/06/2016
MSRP: $24.99

The Production: 3.5/5

After a series of award-winning television specials and an off-Broadway musical that ran for years, Charlie Brown and his Peanuts gang finally came to the big screen in A Boy Named Charlie Brown. For Peanuts aficionados, the familiar tropes of Charles Schulz’s moppet world translated just fine from one medium to another, and this first feature also offers a complementary song score by Rod McKuen that sometimes works with but just as often works against the more familiar jazz riffs of Vince Guaraldi which by the time of this movie had become synonymous with the sound of Peanuts.

Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins) finds himself once against in the doldrums as he endures for the umpteenth time a series of disasters: a catastrophic failure flying his kite, losing the season’s first baseball game, having the football once again pulled away by the calculating Lucy Van Pelt (Pamelyn Ferdin) who as Charlie’s psychoanalyst never tires of pointing out his flaws, even resorting to a slide show and later an instant replay of his inability to succeed at anything. But when the school spelling bee is announced, Charlie is determined to learn the dictionary if he has to in order to finally accomplish something positive.

Charles Schulz had based his script on situations which had delighted his readers for a couple of decades at the time of the film’s production. Charlie’s utter depression over the course of the film gets to be a bit heavy going as the film plays out only made bearable by Charlie’s unexpected success at spelling – though he manages to make even his triumph something of a burden before it’s over – and by the usual side trips to Snoopyland (as he dogfights in his Sopwith Camel and both figure skates and plays hockey at the Rockefeller Center ice rink), Schroder’s (Andy Pforsich) Beethoven “Pathétique Sonata” interlude, and Linus’ (Glenn Gilger) dizzying search for his missing blanket. Having a wider palette of the big screen for his imagery, director Bill Melendez uses split screens on occasion to expand views of Peanuts life, takes a mosaic motif to add color to the crushing baseball ignominy, and allows the animators to take some unusual flights of fantasy in several other sequences. Perhaps the most successfully imaginative illustrates the song “I Before E” as Charlie prepares for the school spelling bee, but Snoopy’s several adventures all get the extra bonus of a feature film budget in which to make his exploits even more memorable. Many of the Vince Guaraldi themes used on the television specials also show up in this film, some with tempo and minor key alterations, but their sophistication sometimes seems at odds with Rod McKuen’s song score which is far more traditional in composition. The title song does carry a bit of poignancy to match Charlie’s usual depression (though the lyrics sometimes seem a bit forced), but “Failure Face” chortled by the girls and “Champion Charlie Brown” sung by the kids after Charlie wins the school bee and heads to New York City for the national championship seem more attuned to another movie (and none of them match the clever effortlessness of Clark Gessner’s score for the stage musical). Nevertheless, the song score did earn the picture’s sole Oscar nomination.

Peter Robbins had voiced Charlie Brown on some of the television specials, so his fine work continues right in line with his earlier efforts. Pamelyn Ferdin, on the other hand, doesn’t quite have the authority and superiority to make Lucy such a dominant character in the story, and Glenn Gilger is just okay as Linus though he had done the character on one of the prior specials. Erin Sullivan is a delightful Sally Brown and Christopher DeFaria does a fine Pig Pen (though he also excelled as Peppermint Patty in some specials and the next feature Snoopy Come Home).

Video: 2.5/5

3D Rating: NA

Would it have killed CBS to properly matte this feature film in widescreen format? Instead, we’re given a 1.33:1 open matte transfer (1080p resolution, AVC codec) that doesn’t look to have been touched since its VHS days. Imagery can be sharp, but there are infrequent soft shots that seem to come from nowhere. Color is very strong and is probably the transfer’s biggest claim to fame. There is also no banding noticeable. Certainly there’s been no clean-up or remastering as there are small white scratches in certain places, the usual dirt and some dust specks, and spotting to break the spell of the storytelling. The movie has been divided into 12 chapters.

Audio: 4/5

The disc offers DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound choices. The surround track gets a nice spread across the front soundstage, but music only occasionally visits the rear channels. Though not lossless, the 2.0 track is probably the more balanced mix. Dialogue is solidly presented throughout, and the music and occasional sound effects are mixed with professional surety. There are no age-related problems to contend with.

Special Features: 0/5

There are no bonus features with the disc.

Overall: 3/5

It’s nice to have A Boy Named Charlie Brown on Blu-ray disc, but the transfer is a great disappointment for those who wanted the movie to have a feature film look and have at least a modicum of attention paid to its cleanliness and overall presentation.

Published by

Matt Hough

author,editor

12 Comments

  1. Wow what a huge disappointment. Besides not releasing this OAR it sounds like they are using the ragged decades old open matte transfer that does trim some info from the sides instead of using the new widescreen transfer created around 10-12 years ago. A definite no sale. No respect given to the peanuts.

  2. Actually I think the OAR has been presented based on this review at the “Aisle Seat”.

    http://andyfilm.com/2016/08/30/9-6-16-labor-day-edition/

    The key part of the review is this:

    Making its Blu-Ray debut from CBS, “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” is presented — at last! — in its proper 4:3 (1.33) aspect ratio (prior DVD editions cropped the film to 16:9) and also in its full-length 86-minute theatrical version. Early CBS/Fox VHS and laserdisc issues contained an abbreviated, 79-minute cut that was apparently trimmed for television, but Paramount finally rectified the situation by including the original version of the film on DVD. Following their lead, CBS has included the longer version of the picture here in HD with its seven restored minutes intact (the “new” footage is comprised of two full sequences and a myriad of trims to other scenes).

    While there’s still dirt and numerous inconsistencies in the print (in no way are the materials as pristine as Warner’s Peanuts TV special releases), the 4:3 AVC encoded transfer is the best, by far, the film has ever looked on home video, and the framing now has room to breathe. The movie was obviously animated for 4:3 and was matted for theatrical showings, but the 16:9 framing of earlier DVD releases was much too cramped, cutting off material on the top of the image. On the audio side, the 5.1 and 2.0 DTS MA soundtracks (the latter especially) do full justice to Guaraldi and McKuen’s musical offerings with solid dynamic range.

  3. Well at least this is better than what happened with Aussie Blu-ray release which stretched the 1.33:1 video to 16X9. I’ll be able to properly matte this one myself for a proper presentation.

  4. I don’t think it’s accurate to state that this was intended to be shown at 1.33:1. Perhaps Bob Furmanek can dig out some exhibitor info on this title, but apart from revival houses and repertory theatres, nobody would have been equipped to show this at 1.33/1.37:1. Besides, they could have included both ratios had they splurged on a BD50. In the words of Mr. Brown himself: AUUGGHHHHH!!!!!!

  5. Zero interest in this title. It appears to be nothing more than an overpriced non-anamorphic transfer that is inconsistent and sometimes almost blurry, with little or no cleanup. Even the OP's screen cap looks way-y soft. Too bad…I kinda liked it when I was young.

  6. Blu-Ray.com's review has screencaps up. Seems like the transfer is very good, but the film element has issues compared to Snoopy Come Home.

    As for the aspect ratio, the Blu-Ray consistently has more image on all four sides. The 1.75:1 framing on the DVD isn't a center crop, but adjusted shot-by-shot. Some shots have the widescreen frame shifted all the way to the top, others closer to the bottom.

    (Red frame indicates the DVD's framing)

  7. Blu-Ray.com's review has screencaps up. Seems like the transfer is very good, but the film element has issues compared to Snoopy Come Home.

    As for the aspect ratio, the Blu-Ray consistently has more image on all four sides. The 1.75:1 framing on the DVD isn't a center crop, but adjusted shot-by-shot. Some shots have the widescreen frame shifted all the way to the top, others closer to the bottom.

    (Red frame indicates the DVD's framing)

    Great comparison research! If anything it makes the case that Paramount made the correct decision to go open matte. This illustrates that the widescreen DVD is a revisionist creation rather than an accurate rendering of the theatrical presentation which would have been a static center crop. I guess theater-goers in 1969 would have been subjected to some rather poor framing!

  8. Zero interest in this title. It appears to be nothing more than an overpriced non-anamorphic transfer that is inconsistent and sometimes almost blurry, with little or no cleanup. Even the OP's screen cap looks way-y soft. Too bad…I kinda liked it when I was young.

    Agreed who releases a film non-OAR these days. And an old ragged transfer to boot. No respect for the Peanuts just a quick no effort release and over-priced to boot. The far superior DVDs were re-mastered and look great upconverted on a Blu Ray. Definitely a case to stick with the DVD.

  9. I'm normally a "No OAR No Sale" guy, but these animated films always confuse me a bit. It  isn't like a live action film where they never meant for you to see the area, the animators deliberately chose to create the artwork that resides there, so it appears there was an expectation that it would be seen.

    In these cases, I like having an open matte approach so that the viewer can decide how they wish to view it.

  10. While I'm fine with the route they went with and think I prefer it, your last sentence isn't quite correct.

    You can't just zoom in on this movie and get a decent widescreen presentation, The framing will be pretty bad at times, as shown by those screenshots. I know that it's how they were viewed in theaters originally, but even the most diehard theatrical purist will expect the perspective to shift as appropriate to best frame the image, just like on the old DVD. 

    People will argue all day long that these two classics should be viewed one particular way or the other. But the fact of the matter is that there are two original aspect ratios for these two films. There's the theatrical widescreen version, and then there's the tv version. The film was prepared for both from the start, unlike 99.9% of widescreen theatrical releases.

    As such, there's nothing wrong with either option. What's wrong is not providing both options to satisfy everyone. Heck, this movie is short enough where they could provide both on a single layer Blu-Ray and not sacrifice quality from over compression.

    They wouldn't of even been out the extra cost of going to a dual layer Blu-Ray, yet they're still restricting us with films that had a very unusual situation that could easily have accommodated everyone's taste.

  11. While I'm fine with the route they went with and think I prefer it, your last sentence isn't quite correct.

    You can't just zoom in on this movie and get a decent widescreen presentation, The framing will be pretty bad at times, as shown by those screenshots. I know that it's how they were viewed in theaters originally, but even the most diehard theatrical purist will expect the perspective to shift as appropriate to best frame the image, just like on the old DVD.

    People will argue all day long that these two classics should be viewed one particular way or the other. But the fact of the matter is that there are two original aspect ratios for these two films. There's the theatrical widescreen version, and then there's the tv version. The film was prepared for both from the start, unlike 99.9% of widescreen theatrical releases.

    As such, there's nothing wrong with either option. What's wrong is not providing both options to satisfy everyone. Heck, this movie is short enough where they could provide both on a single layer Blu-Ray and not sacrifice quality from over compression.

    They wouldn't of even been out the extra cost of going to a dual layer Blu-Ray, yet they're still restricting us with films that had a very unusual situation that could easily have accommodated everyone's taste.

    I wholeheartedly agree that both Aspect Ratios should have been included for both Peanuts releases. 

    Based on the OP's A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN (1969) screenshot, I also agree the visual quality is most disappointing – Not even much better than VHS quality!  I'd expect better than this on DVD even for the old TV specials, let alone a Blu-ray release of one of the cinematic releases, whose bitrate isn't even the slightest bit compromised!  Good Grief! 😛

    CHEERS! 🙂

  12. While I'm fine with the route they went with and think I prefer it, your last sentence isn't quite correct.

    You can't just zoom in on this movie and get a decent widescreen presentation, The framing will be pretty bad at times, as shown by those screenshots. I know that it's how they were viewed in theaters originally, but even the most diehard theatrical purist will expect the perspective to shift as appropriate to best frame the image, just like on the old DVD.

    People will argue all day long that these two classics should be viewed one particular way or the other. But the fact of the matter is that there are two original aspect ratios for these two films. There's the theatrical widescreen version, and then there's the tv version. The film was prepared for both from the start, unlike 99.9% of widescreen theatrical releases.

    As such, there's nothing wrong with either option. What's wrong is not providing both options to satisfy everyone. Heck, this movie is short enough where they could provide both on a single layer Blu-Ray and not sacrifice quality from over compression.

    They wouldn't of even been out the extra cost of going to a dual layer Blu-Ray, yet they're still restricting us with films that had a very unusual situation that could easily have accommodated everyone's taste.

    Leo, which widescreen version are you advocating be included? One like that on the DVD with each shot adjusted for best composition? Or the true Theatrical version with a static center crop? If it's the latter, then yes the open matte version on the Blu-ray can achieve that goal through zoom functions.

  13. First of all, if my earlier post wasn't clear enough, I think everyone should've been accommodated here via including an alternate widescreen presentation to complement the open matte, tv style presentation.

    But I'd argue that it's the DVD style framing that shifts the frame vertically when appropriate that most people would want for a widescreen presentation. I believe that just based off those screenshots, most would agree that it's more suitable than just a static center crop and thus is preferred even if not historically accurate. And I've watched the DVD enough times where I'm confident in saying that it works well.

    And when we get right down to it, I believe that it's accepted that this aired in theaters in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1.  So 1.78:1 (Full-screen 16:9) like on the DVD isn't even original, albeit not dramatically different. So if you're not even using the "correct" aspect ratio for the theatrical presentation for the widescreen theatrical fans, you may as well go all out and enhance the framing at the same time to correct obvious issues with the source material.

    Just like this excellent screenshot that demonstrates the compromise originally made for the DVD overlaid onto an open matte screenshot from this new Blu-Ray. I feel it's not even debatable that this is better than a static center crop and that the movie thus benefits from this move.

    Sadly, using your tv's zoom function obviously can't achieve this on this Blu-Ray. Also, aren't there resolution issues this way, as well? All the image that is off-screen when zoomed in is leaving you a lower pixel density on your screen than if a widescreen option had just been available from the start.

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