Along with the evergreen specials mentioned above -- which are still regularly run on TV to this day -- the set includes Charlie Brown's All-Stars, You're In Love, Charlie Brown, He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown, and It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown. The last-named of these was produced during the ramp-up to the first full-length feature film starring the PEANUTS characters, so we get a clear picture of how Melendez' "graphic blandishment facilitators" polished their skills in preparation for that step up in class. The Disney Studio's progression from Steamboat Willie to Snow White it ain't, but the animation and draftsmanship in Short Summer is a considerable improvement over that of CB Christmas, while preserving many of the quirky facial expressions and other oddities that make these early efforts so charming.
It's important to remember how "cutting-edge" these cartoons were at the time they were made. Conventional wisdom held that professionally trained adults were needed to voice children, but Schulz and Melendez insisted on using real kids. (Peter Robbins as Charlie Brown, Chris Shea as Linus, Gai DeFaria as Peppermint Patty -- and, needless to say, Melendez as Snoopy, who, it's amazing to think now, some folks wanted to have an actual voice, rather than the howls, snickers, and hoots we're all familiar with -- still rank, in my mind, as the canonical voices for their respective characters.) The jazz tracks of Vince Guaraldi sounded nothing like any other contemporary "cartoon music," yet they've become synonymous with the specials and have birthed several best-selling records, to boot. Needless to say, the decision to climax CB Christmas with Linus' simple recital of the Nativity Story from Luke's Gospel flew in the face of the "trend towards cultural homogenization" favored in the era of the "Big Three" networks. In the 1970s and beyond, the PEANUTS specials certainly looked slicker than these efforts, but they were a little hollow and formulaic at times, a little too quick to hop on trends (It's Flashbeagle, anyone? Anyone?...), and lacked such memorable moments as, for example, the wrist-wrestling match between Snoopy and Lucy in Short Summer, the World War I Flying Ace dogfight in Great Pumpkin (which Melendez reused in He's Your Dog and A Boy Named Charlie Brown), and Charlie's agonized efforts to meet the Little Red-Haired Girl in You're In Love -- to say nothing of Linus' Gospel reading. Schulz gradually unbent himself a bit on the issue of "selling out" -- allowing Charlie Brown to kiss the Red-Haired Girl in 1977's It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown, permitting adult voices and characters to appear in the This is America mini-series and elsewhere -- but here we get the animated PEANUTS in its purest, most authentic form.
The "remastered" cartoons look reasonably good, though I did notice some streakiness in scenes with dark, full-color backgrounds (e.g. the scene in CB Christmas where Charlie Brown is looking up at the blue, star-spangled night sky). The only extra is a lengthy and intermittently interesting documentary about Vince Guaraldi that occasionally strays a bit too far into "jazz insider" territory. The previous releases of CB Christmas and Great Pumpkin had mini-docs that detailed the stories of the cartoons' creation, but they are not included here for some reason. Perhaps Warners thought that those purchasing this set would probably also have the earlier releases, but the omission still strikes me as a bit strange... and why not have a commentary or two with surviving animators as an alternative voice track to several of these? Irritatingly, You're in Love is specified as being on Disc 1 on the DVD cover, but is on Disc 2 inside. Not even the notoriously desultory Disney DVD would have made that big of a mistake, I think.
Hopefully, Warners will follow this up with a 1970s collection. Beyond that, I think I'll stick to YouTube. Something went out of the cartoons for me when Guaraldi passed and Melendez et al. started playing havoc with "canon." These cartoons, however, are definite keepers for anyone with an interest in the PEANUTS phenomenon or 1960s pop culture in general.