It’s Christmas Time Again,Charlie Brown

Voices: Jamie E. Smith, Mindy Ann Martin, John Christian Graas, Marne Patterson, Philip Lucier, Lindsay Bennish, Mathew Slowick, Deanna Tello, Brittany M. Thornton, Sean Mendelson, Melendez.

Voices: Jamie E. Smith, Mindy Ann Martin, John Christian Graas, Marne Patterson, Philip Lucier, Lindsay Bennish, Mathew Slowick, Deanna Tello, Brittany M. Thornton, Sean Mendelson, Melendez.

Make no mistake about it, “It’s Christmas Time Again, Charlie Brown” won’t have anyone forgetting “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” But it’s still, for the most part, a cleverly written, sharply animated, smartly performed package–one of the best “Peanuts” animation specials to hit the tube in ages.

It’s been 27 years since the original “A Charlie Brown Christmas” premiered, and that surprise hit of so many yuletides past has rightly taken its place as one of the most beloved holiday specials ever. So this latest entry couldn’t possibly benefit from the comparisons that will naturally be drawn between it and that first and best “Peanuts” special.

But taken on its own merits, “It’s Christmas Time Again” is an entertaining, fast-paced, well-crafted half-hour. Not nearly all the gags click, but a few of the ones that do earn out-loud laughs, at least from adult connoisseurs of classic “Peanuts” humor.

Of course, some of the gags land with a thud, often because the punch lines are less the high point of the joke than an explanation of the joke.

An even greater concern is the lack of a unifying story. In fact, this exact collection of gags could probably be reassembled into a conventional storyline with numerous building subplots, likely a more effective approach than this collection of unrelated multigag vignettes.

The biggest mistake comes about midway through, when Linus attempts to explain to greedy, cynical Sally the true meaning of Christmas. That gives viewers a rehash of the most powerful moment from “Charlie Brown Christmas,” in which Linus recites the Biblical account of Christ’s birth. This unwise reprisal screams out for comparison to the original–a comparison the newer version hasn’t the slightest chance of winning.

Still, the new special is a winner. Bill Melendez’s direction is superb, eliciting accomplished comedic performances from moppet voices.

The animation is often crisply timed, colorful and, within the bounds of Schulz’s distinctive style, inventive. David Benoit provides an agreeable arrangement of the perfect Vince Guaraldi “Charlie Brown Christmas” score, though again, comparisons do not benefit the latter effort.

Still, such comparisons probably aren’t necessary or fair. “It’s Christmas Time Again” couldn’t possibly replace the original. But after 27 years, it’s a real treat to enjoy the holidays once again with these old friends.

It's Christmas Time Again,Charlie Brown

(Fri. (27), 8:30-9 p.m., CBS-TV)

Production: Filmed by Lee Mendelson-Bill Melendez Prods. in association with Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates and United Media Prods. Animation by Wang Film Prods. Co. Ltd., Cuckoo's Nest Studio and Taipei, Taiwan, R.O.C. Exec producer, Mendelson; producer-director, Melendez; writer-creator, Schulz.

Crew: Camera, Nick Vasu; editors, Chuck McCann, Warren Taylor; sound, Clark Germaine; music, Vince Guaraldi, David Benoit.

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