Unnecessary Upgrade 4 Stars

Warner’s decision to bring classic animated television holiday specials that were originally created for the small screens of the mid to late 1960s is an odd one. Granted, the Peanuts Holiday Collection contains three of the highest rated holiday specials in the history of television, but not a great deal is gained in the jump to 4K.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Released: 09 Dec 1965
Rated: TV-G
Runtime: 25 min
Director: Bill Melendez
Genre: Animation, Short, Comedy
Cast: Ann Altieri, Chris Doran, Sally Dryer, Bill Melendez
Writer(s): Charles M. Schulz
Plot: Repelled by the commercialism he sees around him, Charlie Brown tries to find the true meaning of Christmas.
IMDB rating: 8.4
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: TVG=TV-G
Run Time: 0 Hr. 26 Min. approx. per episode
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray, UltraViolet
Case Type: 6-disc UHD keepcase with slipcover
Disc Type: UHD
Region: All
Release Date: 10/10/2017
MSRP: $44.98

The Production: 5/5

If you do not know what A Charlie Brown ChristmasIt’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving are, then you should very likely have your memory checked. Peanuts was, and still is, a very popular comic strip created by Charles M. Schulz. In 1965, Coca-Cola approached producer Lee Mendelson, best known at the time as a documentary filmmaker who had just completed a film on Schulz, about creating a Christmas special for television that the soda company would sponsor. Mendelson agreed and approached Schulz about bringing his Peanuts characters to the small screen. The animated special was produced in less than six months on a very low budget and directed by Bill Melendez, who had only created a few promotional spots at the time. CBS agreed to air the special, but were not too excited about the finished product, that took a fairly serious look at the over-commercialization of Christmas and re-enacted a typical school Christmas Pageant that included Linus reading from the Bible. CBS reluctantly placed it on their broadcast schedule for December 9, 1965. The ratings went through the roof, with 49% of television households tuning in.

The team followed up the next year with Charlie Brown’s All-Stars and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the latter also receiving a 49% share, with A Charlie Brown Christmas becoming a holiday staple the folloowing year with high ratings in its second run. The rest, as they say, is history, with new Peanuts specials being created almost annually with full-length animated features to follow. In 1973, the holiday trifecta was completed with the broadcast of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (re-enacting the stresses of putting on a feast for the extended family), giving the Peanuts gang annual specials in October, November, and December, and would continue to be broadcast on CBS through the year 2000, with ABC picking up the rights to many of the classic holiday specials in 2001, where the specials have aired since.

The specials included in this set are:

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
It’s Magic, Charlie Brown
Charlie Brown’s All-Stars
(UHD bonus episode)

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
The Mayflower Voyagers
Play It Again, Charlie Brown  (UHD bonus episode)

A Charlie Brown Christmas
It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown
It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

The bulk of the Peanuts specials (nine of which are included in this set) were created in the mid 1960s through the early 1990s for television, long before high definition. In particular, the early specials were made very inexpensively and very quickly, knowing that they would be seen primarily on very early color televisions with an average screen size of 2 1 inches diagonally. If you remember what those TV sets were like, their color reproduction was not great (to get an idea, check out reruns of Laugh-In on Decades, which was recorded in color on videotape in the early 1970s). Even though Peanuts was animated on 35mm film, as a way to cut corners, colors were not vibrant (for fear of bleeding) with ink and paint work not always matching and minute details were often rough, knowing the limitations of color broadcasts would likely mask those issues.

Unfortunately, most of those shortcomings became apparent when the specials were upgraded to high definition, and are even more apparent with these new 2160p transfers. That is not to say that the specials are unwatchable, as the now-considered crude animation is part of the charm of the Peanuts specials. In UHD, these specials take on a more filmic quality, with visible and noticeable grain that feels more natural. The wider color gamut, though, does make some of the ink and paint touch-ups on the animation cels more obvious (take a close look at some of the pumpkins in the patch with Linus and Sally), but it also allows for some of the subtle gradations of color to appear. Contrast is improved with the use of HDR, allowing for slightly deeper blacks. Yes, the specials look better in UHD than they did in 1080p, but the difference is very minimal.

One note, though, is that viewers have their choice of watching them in a new, cropped 16:9 widescreen presentation (the default) or the classic 4:3 original aspect ratio (you must page through the Play pop-up menu to get to them).

Audio: 3/5

All nine of the specials features on the UHD discs were originally created with mono soundtracks (with possible exception of It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown), but Warner has offered only a DTS-HD MA 5.1 remix on each. The best thing I can say about these remixes is that they are faithful to their mono sources while opening up the soundstage ever so slightly. Surrounds are used primarily to provide a fair amount of immersion, but nothing really discrete. Dialogue is clear and always understandable, and fidelity is adequate, considering the technology used at the time the specials were recorded.

Special Features: 3/5

Two of the UHD discs contain bonus episodes (as noted above in my review of The Production), otherwise only the included Blu-ray discs contain any special features.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (UHD)

Charlie Brown’s All-Stars (1966): The Peanuts gang form a baseball team.

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (UHD)
Play It Again, Charlie Brown
(1971): Classical pianist Schroeder is invited to play at a rock concert for the PTA.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (Blu-ray)
We Need a Blockbuster, Charlie Brown
(480i; 13:58): Lee Mendelson, Bill Melendez and others discuss trying to follow-up the hugely successful A Charlie Brown Christmas with a Halloween-themed special.

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (Blu-ray)
Popcorn & Jellybeans: Making a Thanksgiving Classic
(480i; 12:27): The creators discuss making A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (Blu-ray)
A Christmas Miracle: The Making of A Charlie Brown Christmas
(480i; 16:01): The title is self-explanatory.

Digital Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem digital copies through UltraViolet partner Vudu:
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (HDX)
A Charlie Brown Christmas (HDX)
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (SD)
The Mayflower Voyagers (SD)
Play It Again, Charlie Brown (SD)

Overall: 4/5

For those that do not already own these specials, or for those that want the two bonus specials that were not included on the Blu-ray release, then this is the version you will want. Otherwise, for most, the older Blu-ray release (with VC-1 encodes) will likely suffice. Personally, I have a bit of a pet peeve over what was included and excluded on the digital copy, and the fact that only two of the specials are HDX, while the other three are only SD.

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Todd Erwin

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Rodney

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Thanks for the review. I think I'll live with my older blu's of these wonderful shows.
 

Rob W

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I assume this uses the revisionist version of A Charlie Brown Christmas, with all references to the original sponsor the Coca Cola company missing from the opening and closing scenes ?
 
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Brian Kidd

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I don't get it. This one is definitely a cash grab. Aside from the lovely backgrounds in the early specials, there isn't much point to having a higher resolution image.
 
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Osato

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I only have the great pumpkin in blu ray. I've added these to my wish list.
Maybe I'll get to them at some point.

I really appreciate the review!!
 

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I assume this uses the revisionist version of A Charlie Brown Christmas, with all references to the original sponsor the Coca Cola company missing from the opening and closing scenes ?
I don't think the original version with sponsors has ever been released on any format.

Here's the original opening for "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown".
It would be awesome if they could remaster and include the original opening for both of these specials.
 
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Lord Dalek

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It would not surprise me if the Coke version no longer exists in a transferable state at this point. The only copies out there are from bootleg 16mm prints (most in B&W!), and the footage was permanently excised by Melendez-Mendelssohn some 40+ years ago. Maybe there is a 35mm print out there but I ain't holding my breath.
 
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Matt Hough

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I don't think the original version with sponsors has ever been released.

Here's the original opening for "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown".
It would be awesome if they could remaster and include the original opening for both of these specials.
Thanks for linking that extra footage. That's priceless animation we've been missing all these years!
 
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Scott Merryfield

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Thanks for the review, Todd. I suspected that this set may not be worth upgrading, and your review confirms that suspicion. Unless this set drops to a really low price, I will just continue to enjoy the BDs during the holiday season.
 
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Robert Crawford

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Thanks for the review, Todd. I suspected that this set may not be worth upgrading, and your review confirms that suspicion. Unless this set drops to a really low price, I will just continue to enjoy the BDs during the holiday season.
I watched them during their original broadcasts on CBS back in the day and these blu-rays look much better than what I viewed in 1965, 1966 and the years that followed in the 1970s.
 

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I don't think the original version with sponsors has ever been released.

Here's the original opening for "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown".
It would be awesome if they could remaster and include the original opening for both of these specials.
I was too young to remember the first run of the Peanuts Christmas and Halloween specials, but if I recall correctly, some of those Dolly Madison spots were still airing in the mid to late '70s. They were definitely airing DM commercials during the broadcasts, at any rate. I don't recall the Coca Cola ads, though.

CHEERS! :)
 

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I was too young to remember the first run of the Peanuts Christmas and Halloween specials, but if I recall correctly, some of those Dolly Madison spots were still airing in the mid to late '70s. They were definitely airing DM commercials during the broadcasts, at any rate. I don't recall the Coca Cola ads, though.

CHEERS! :)
I think Dolly Madison co-sponsored the later efforts after a Charlie Brown Christmas
 

Scott Merryfield

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I watched them during their original broadcasts on CBS back in the day and these blu-rays look much better than what I viewed in 1965, 1966 and the years that followed in the 1970s.
I probably didn't start watching them on TV until the late '60's, but I wholeheartedly agree. The BDs look incredible compared to those broadcasts. We watch these every year around their respective holidays... it's a great trip down memory lane, along with the Grinch, Rudolph and Frosty animated BDs.
 

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I watched them during their original broadcasts on CBS back in the day and these blu-rays look much better than what I viewed in 1965, 1966 and the years that followed in the 1970s.
Obviously TV technology is much better than it was 40-50 years ago. Methinks a hi-def Blu-ray on a 60" 4K TV will fare better than an over-the-air broadcast on a 15" tube TV! :D
 

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Obviously TV technology is much better than it was 40-50 years ago. Methinks a hi-def Blu-ray on a 60" 4K TV will fare better than an over-the-air broadcast on a 15" tube TV! :D
I suspect the visual quality of the Coca Cola and Dolly Madison bumpers, as presented on the YouTube based clip, might still be better than the over the air counterpart that displayed on that 15" tube!

CHEERS! :)
 
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Obviously TV technology is much better than it was 40-50 years ago. Methinks a hi-def Blu-ray on a 60" 4K TV will fare better than an over-the-air broadcast on a 15" tube TV! :D
I'm sorry we need you to stand on the other side of the room so we can get a good picture ;)
 

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Digital bits posted a review of the set too.
It's on my wish list but it will be a while until I get to it.

I just watched the great pumpkin blu ray with my boys this past weekend.
 
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I treated myself to the UHD release of this for a Christmas present to myself, and watched A Charlie Brown Christmas this afternoon. I was very curious about the widescreen versions of the specials. Esthetically, they weren't too bad (I didn't notice a lot of necessary needed information cropped out, and they appeared pretty natural in terms of framing), but close-ups of the characters showed some weird blocky anomalies with their mouths when speaking in the UHD widescreen versions which I had never noticed in the regular 4:3 Blu-rays. I'm sure I'll get used to it over time, and I haven't watched the 4:3 UHD versions yet of this or any of the others in this set. I'm giving myself other things to look forward to over the next couple of weeks.
 
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