“Peanuts, we salute you!”
To begin, we will issue a disclaimer: This is America, Charlie Brown has already been released. Back in 2006 it was issued as a two-disc set, just like this one. The difference being this release claims to be remastered. If you already own 2006’s release I don’t recommend upgrading. There are no additional extras and the remastering isn’t enough on its own as to warrant another purchase.
This is America, Charlie Brown is an eight-part mini-series which originally aired in 1988, featuring Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang. The episodes are concerned with different aspects of American history and offer a range of approaches. In some episodes we have a book report feel, with recitation of facts by one of the Peanuts kids. In others we rely more on montages, and in the NASA Space Station episode we break up with the idea of history being shown. Instead, the kids present an imagining of what life on the space station will be like.
The eight episodes are presented across two discs.
* “The Mayflower Voyagers” — Released as part of the A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving DVD this episode takes us across the North Atlantic and details the struggle of the first European settlers.
* “The Birth of the Constitution” — Charlie Brown (Erin Chase) and the gang anxiously await the consensus among the states’ delegates in regards to the governing of the new nation.
* “The Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk” — Linus (Brandon Stewart) and Charlie Brown visit Linus’ cousin at the holidays and end up being able to witness Orville and Wilbur Wright’s historical flight.
* “The NASA Space Station” — Commander Lucy (Erica Gayle) leads a team of astronauts in their 90 day stay aboard the space station.
* “The Building of the Transcontinental Railroad” — Featuring vintage photographs from the era the great Pacific railroad race is accounted.
* “The Great Inventors” — Linus visits with Alexander Graham Bell (Frank Welker) and other inventors and their inventions are touched upon.
* “The Smithsonian and the Presidency” — The Peanuts gang is touring the Smithsonian, and when they come upon certain presidential artifacts, we are treated to an imagining of those presidencies.
* “The Music and Heroes of America” — Ranging the gamut from slave songs to rock and roll, a brief overview of historically important music as well as the people who rose to prominence during certain eras is discussed.
There are a few things which remain constant no matter the episode, and which all hearken back to earlier Peanuts specials. Though the cast of characters differs somewhat from episode to episode; Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy and Woodstock (both Bill Melendez) are all present. There’s usually a “Good grief!” in there somewhere as well. But my favorite thing about This is America, Charlie Brown also happens to be another constant, and that is the beloved Peanuts theme. For each episode there’s a different interpretation and it’s definitely a highlight to the mini-series.
The element which will probably take first-time viewers aback is the fact not only are adults present, but they interact with Charlie Brown and the gang in perfectly understandable conversations. There’s no “wah wah wah wah” gibberish and it’s a bit disconcerting until you get used to it. It’s clear Charles Schultz (creator of Peanuts who wrote most of the episodes) wanted to play the concepts straight and really lean more toward the educational versus the entertainment end of the spectrum. As such, the episodes can be a bit dry, especially when they rely so heavily on narration. However, it’s a very fine line to walk, as too much humor threatens to obscure the historical facts being presented. I did occasionally find my attention wandering a bit though these episodes are less than half an hour each, however not for too long. There is definitely an audience for This is America, Charlie Brown, but it’s not the set to introduce you to the Peanuts gang. I imagine it will play well in schools.
The technical specs definitely betray the age of the mini-series. Presented in standard def 1.33:1 full frame, the transfer showcases the hand-drawn animation well. The palette is evenly saturated with tones favoring the brown end of the spectrum, with the highlight being the reds, which pop off the screen more so than any other color. The video is definitely where evidence of remastering is present, as there are few defects in the transfer. Very little grain, errant spots, or the like exist. The audio is a set of Dolby 2.0 Mono tracks in English and Spanish. While I had to turn up my speakers at points due to the rather flat nature of the tracks, I honestly do not know what else they could do to enhance the audio outside of a re-recording. There are no extras.
This is America, Charlie Brown definitely favors the educational end of the spectrum over entertainment. That is not a bad thing, as fans of the Peanuts gang are likely to watch and actually learn something about American history. A purchase is in order if you have a little one who’s studying the subject in their social studies class or if you yourself are interested in any of the elements discussed. Each subject gets an overview as opposed to a comprehensive documentary, but this set is a great jumping off point to help you decide to search out more about the subjects presented.