DVD Review: Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales

Hi all…

When the holidays roll around, I can’t help but think about the many great Charlie Brown television specials that appear throughout the year. Of course you have It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown at Halloween, and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and A Charlie Brown Christmas at Christmastime, but you also have Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown and It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown, with many others. The jazzy piano music of Vince Guaraldi provides much of the soundtrack in my mind to this very day.

Based on the Peanuts comic strip of creator Charles M. Schultz, which began appearing in newspapers by 1950 and ended in 2000, each of the animated specials has offered a slice of the world Charlie Brown and Snoopy inhabit. And I know I for one will happily revisit that world just about any day of the week. Even so, I know I haven’t seen all of the Charlie Brown/Peanuts television specials that have aired over the years. The usual suspects appear every year on TV, but there are many that appeared once and then seemingly disappeared into that space where forgotten cartoons go.

That’s why I’m very happy that Warner Brothers has been re-releasing many of the older animated Peanuts features that we haven’t seen before. Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales is one of the specials that falls into this category. I don’t remember ever seeing it on television, but am happy to share it with my two daughters who haven’t seen very many of these amazing cartoons.

Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales focuses on a series of Christmastime vignettes featuring a different Peanuts character. Snoopy, Linus, Sally, Lucy, and Charlie Brown are all featured. Snoopy struggles with trying to forge a Christmas peace with the ferocious cat next door and wants to ice skate with Lucy though she wants nothing to do with him. Linus works on his letter to Santa and tries to figure out the girl who sits behind him in class who is always changing her name. Sally writes a letter to “Samantha Claus” and embarrasses herself in class, Lucy tries to be nice, and Charlie Brown tries to prepare for the holiday.

Through each little story, you catch a glimpse into the minds of these characters. And though I prefer A Charlie Brown Christmas, I think Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales may be added to the long list of holiday specials to watch as Christmas grows near.

Also included on the DVD is “Is this Goodbye, Charlie Brown?” in which Linus and Lucy unexpectedly move away, forcing Charlie Brown, Sally, Snoopy, and the rest of the gang to deal with their loss. Though I liked this feature, I have to wonder why it would be included on a holiday-themed DVD.

But if you’re looking for another classic holiday special for your arsenal of DVDs, I’d definitely check out Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other animated classics below!

Music Review: Sonos – December Songs

Hi all…

This has to be a first… I’ve found TWO Christmas albums this year I actually can stand! Is the Grinch melting or are people simply starting to go beyond traditional arrangements of boring old Christmas tunes?

Over the last ten years I’ve only found a handful of holiday-themed albums that have really clicked for me. Traditional albums filled with Christmas classics tend to stay to the tried-and-true arrangements of the same songs we’ve heard for years now. So when I find an artist that breaks the mold, either with humor, new arrangements, or new songs, I tend to take more notice.

Sonos, an a cappella group that came onto the scene in 2009, has released an album of Christmas music called December Songs and it’s striking in its gorgeous vocal arrangements and choice of songs. They’ve been busy, performing in live sessions on NPR’s Weekend Edition, Studio 360, KCRW, BBC Americana, Sirius/XM, and many others – as well as performing at the Sundance Music Festival. With all of that, it’s amazing they had a chance to get into the studio to record a holiday album. And all ten songs lend a grace and harmony to the season that adds a bit of magic back to Christmas for me.

“Ave Maria” starts off the album beautifully, adding motion to a song usually done much more slowly. Always a song rich with emotional overtones, Sonos has managed to add new life making it more of a bright and cheerful celebration than the usual dark and steady pace the song is normally performed set to.

They follow that up with “All on a Christmas Morning,” a song from the 1940s that I’d never heard before telling the story of the babe in the manger in Bethlehem. I love the opening which sounds a bit like a variation of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” but merges seamlessly with the lyrics “O, they a vision fair would view / Would find the beautiful and true, / And faith and hope and love renew / All on a Christmas morning.”

But funny enough to me it’s the traditional songs “O Holy Night” and “Greensleeves” that stuck with me after listening a few times. This is the first rendition of “O Holy Night” that I can remember not making me cringe. There’s a power to the arrangements as they transition from a duet with backups to the fuller chorus and the rich vocal accompaniment. And their version of “Greensleeves” without words provides some interesting textures to enhance the basic melodies that made this a unique arrangement.

Whether you’re a fan of a cappella music, Christmas music, or are simply looking for something to brighten your holidays, please check out December Music from Sonos. The album is available now from Amazon and CD Baby online. Be sure to check out their website at Sonosings.com.

For a review of Sonos last album – Sonosings – be sure to check out my review here.

This review appeared first at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Check out these albums from Barnes & Noble and Amazon!

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DVD Review: A Miser Brothers’ Christmas

Hi there!

In the stop-motion style of the great Rankin/Bass from the 1960s and 70s, A Miser Brothers’ Christmas has come on the scene just in time for the holidays. From Warner Brothers Animation and Cuppa Coffee Studios, this story picks up after the events of the 1974 classic The Year Without a Santa Claus… The Miser Brothers, Heat Miser and Snow Miser, are still fighting after all these years. But this time they’re joined by the rest of Mother Natures’ family to tell a brand new musical tale.

Rankin/Bass were responsible for many of the great holiday specials that still air between Thanksgiving and Christmas each year. First there was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, then others such as Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town, The Year Without a Santa Claus, and many others. Like the Peanuts holiday specials from Charles M. Schultz that remind us the holidays are near, it’s hard to imagine a Christmas without hearing songs like “Silver and Gold” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas” sung by Burl Ives during these animated gems.

To say I was surprised anyone was thinking of continuing the Rankin/Bass series would be an understatement when I heard about this new special. In my mind, nothing could really compete with the originals, though I was interested to see if these animators did more than just ride the coattails of what had come before.

We were delighted to see the creators of A Miser Brothers’ Christmas did their very best to do justice to the Rankin/Bass tradition. And as I watched with my two daughters, I could see this was going to be another big hit at our house for Christmases to come.

In the beginning of the show, Heat Miser and Snow Miser head off to a family reunion with Mother Nature and the rest of her children around the world – including the Tides, Lightning and Thunder, Earthquake, and the North Wind. The North Wind, a bit of a “Mama’s Boy,” asked Mother Nature what might happen if Santa couldn’t deliver toys. And she offhandedly tells him that he could take control in that case… And that’s where things get interesting.

Meanwhile, Santa Claus is testing a new super sleigh created by his chief mechanic, Tinsel. The North Wind sends his minions to sabotage the sleigh and Santa crashes near the Miser Brothers’ mountains and hurts his back. The Misers think it’s their fault that he crashed, and so does their mother. So they’re assigned the task of helping out at the North Pole while Santa gets back on his feet. And all this time, the North Wind works his fiendish schemes to take control of Christmas himself.

Though some of the songs are a bit over the top for me, my daughters were singing right along with them about half the time. These are meant to be larger than life characters teaching a lesson about greed, getting along and doing the right thing. I think the animators succeeded in doing so in their 44 minute special.

Also included on the DVD is the feature “What Makes Stop Motion Go?” which focuses on the many aspects of pulling this film together. It took nine and a half months to create it and many different teams to get things right, from the animators and set designers, to the costumers and voice actors, and even the digital magicians who helped pull things together with a few CGI effects here and there. We were all entranced as the various people involved explained what they did. You could tell each of them wanted things to be just perfect.

Evidently this special aired in December 2008 during ABC Family‘s “The 25 Days of Christmas” programming. Somehow we missed it last year when it was on but were delighted to see it on DVD this holiday season. If you’re looking for another great holiday special to share with your kids, this is a good one to add to your holiday arsenal!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great holiday specials below!

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