Christmas Special Review- A Charlie Brown Christmas

When you think of the iconic Christmas specials one of the first, if not the first, that comes to mind has to be A Charlie Brown Christmas. It is most likely the best suited for repeated viewing and in all likelihood holds a special place in the heart of the masses because it’s the one you can most closely identify with.

Think about it: this special probably connects to adults more so than children. Not only is Charlie a character with anxieties and worries but he has developed some of the same observations about Christmas that we do over the years: its become too commercial, it’s a hassle, etc.

The discussion of the commercialism of the holiday is very on the head but it also allows for the easy transition from a secular to a religious story. At first, there is only concern for the fenestration: gifts, decorations, trees and the like. Eventually the true meaning is allowed to burst forth.

It is a very brief but also very powerful intercession of the religious in this tale wherein Linus recites the story of the Nativity. Linus in many ways ends up being the hero of this tale because he is the first to change his mind on Charlie’s modest tree choice, and then, he relates the true story of Christmas.

Of course, the carols in the film are also religious and a breath of fresh air. It’s a fact that many of the memorable Christmas specials feature original music but just as often specials fall flat on their face in their attempt to create something new. Here we get the simple, tried and true and beautiful throughout, whether it be in carols or story choices.

This special succeeds because it is exceedingly human, and like the season, gives us a glimmer of hope for the world annually and that is why it is a timeless classic.

Thanksgiving Review: Mayflower Voyagers

This is a Peanuts special that was made several years after the original Thanksgiving tale which sees the characters we have come to know assuming the roles of Pilgrims.

It does a rather admirable job of recounting the tale of both the journey across the Atlantic and also the Pilgrim’s first few years on the new continent, albeit a somewhat sanitized one.

The voice over in this tale is very persistent as it is truly a storybook type tale and save for one or two slips in pacing it’s nearly impeccable and a very admirable feat.

Over the years the voice casting of these specials was tremendous overall as the actors frequently had to be switched to have them sound genuinely like children and not adults imitating kids’ voices. To keep the same quality of voice in each character is quite a feat and it was nearly always seamless. Here though you will notice that there was quite a departure in the casting of Marcy.

It is for all that still a very worthwhile and humorous look at the early origins of the holiday and, in fact, our nation, that is worth seeing and it is usually included as a bonus feature on Happy Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown DVDs.

Properties That Could Use The Avengers Treatment

Now speaking for myself (for who else would I speak for) I was most definitely delighted with The Avengers. Now, whether you loved it, hated it or felt indifferently towards it one cannot deny the box office records it shattered. Which gets me to thinking that imitation is the sincerest form of trying to make money in Hollywood; so what entities could benefit from a ‘team up’ mentality, aesthetically at least (as the box office is always a crap shoot)?

1. Turma da Mônica

OK, yes, this is absolutely my list and some of these ideas may not be feasible financially or even of broad appeal to a US audience. However, I am merely selecting properties where there can be a convergence of factions within a fictitious universe. This is a Brazilian comics universe I’ve discussed on occasion and the fact of the matter is there are many separate “Gangs” (as they’re referred to meaning more like Kool and the Gang, rather than biker gangs) that could each have their own films or a mash-up. There’s certainly enough characters and plots it’s about 11 sections and 100+ characters. Which does not include the new adolescent versions of many of the same characters.

2. Looney Tunes

This has been touched upon to an extent both in Roger Rabbit, Space Jam and Back in Action, which I did not see. However, the Looney Tunes ensemble is still right for a feature length film that doesn’t stitch together shorts but rather creates new material and introduces a new audience to these wonderful characters.

3. Disney

This was honestly the first idea that came to mind. Between the parks and the Epic Mickey video games (a new version to come next year) this idea is just sitting there. Disney fans are nothing if not loyal. We, for I speak as one of them, would gladly go to see a new story with old familiar faces in familiar contexts. This is much more in keeping with what will please us rather than uninspired straight-to-video sequels.

4. Walter Lantz

Universal Studios owns all these characters and only recently announced the development of a Woody Woodpecker feature. It’s a great property that should be exploited and while they’re doing that they may as well bring many back to us. Come on, Chilly Willy.

This group makes it on the list over something like Dick Tracy because at least here it seems like the current rights holder is seeking to do something with it.

5. Justice League

The status of this project is in the balance and rumored, however, that’s not to say it’s not a possibility. Chris Nolan’s Batman series is a benchmark. Superman is being re-started. Despite its box office and critical struggles (I liked it) Green Lantern has happened. Getting a few more ducks in a row (Meaning films and attaching cast/director) this could work. Seriously.

6. Animaniacs

I can’t be the only one who misses these guys and would absolutely love to see all the great characters this show created converge in one huge overriding plot. The common thread: everyone is, whether they know it or not, obstructing The Brain’s plot to take over the world.

7. Tiny Toons

This one is going a few years before that but, hey, Elmira is the crossover character! The Tiny Toons I felt were more unceremoniously dumped for The Animaniacs. They are far more legitimate heir to the Looney Tunes than the new Baby version which I can hardly bear to look at in a commercial.

8. Roger Rabbit

I mentioned this in a short film Saturday post but Roger Rabbit has unjustly vanished from the world after being poised to be a huge real life star (better than Goofy?) but it never happened. If it all goes well I’d like Robert Zemeckis to get to do this. In spite of his motion capture struggles this is his project if its a hybrid, I would not object to an all toon version though.

9. Fradim

This could work better as a TV show but it is a Brazilian choice. Essentially, Henfil was one of Brazil’s great cartoonists and his strip was extra-ordinarily political. Creating a feature-length pastiche of his works would be something quite special, not that his universe is as massive as some of these others.

10. Calvin & Hobbes

I could include this in another list soon but clearly your argument against it, aside from the purist’s one, would be: “Calvin and Hobbes isn’t a heavily populated universe, is it?” No, not with people but were there to ever be a film I’d want to to be every bit as varied as Calvin’s imagination meaning Spaceman Spiff, Dinosaurs, Old Fashioned Soap Opera-Looking adults, Aliens and other imagined realities and alter egos of Calvin would be included in the story.

11. The Peanuts

Perhaps no other comic strip was ever as simply philosophical and also got down to the brass tacks of childhood and life better than The Peanuts. Specials like at Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween are great but they only truly skim the surface of the series. With the Peanuts gaining new life in a series from Boom Studios and dailies being reprinted by Fantagraphics one would think someone would be able to edit and cull major story-lines that relate, and incorporate as many characters as possible into a tremendous feature.

12. Harvey Comics

Now, there were a few adaptations of Harvey creations both Richie Rich and Casper (the latter being better and sequels not withstanding), however, Harvey comics no longer exist but the characters still exist in the collective consciousness and are getting either re-imagined or re-issued all the time. There are many characters to leverage and crossing over was frequent so it wouldn’t be hard to do if someone thought there was an audience for it.

13. The Fantastic Four

I’ll admit that I have not seen The Fantastic Four films that were attempted and based on what I’ve heard they’re not high on my list. Since my return to comics the First Family has become one of my great loves. Jonathan Hickman’s run, which I am fully up to date on, is truly epic and the kind of story that is conducive to an elevated sensibility that has been applied to superhero films as of late. The characters within the Marvel universe have always been sort of a crossroads so creating an Avengers-like project with them would not be difficult.

14. Asterix & Obelix

Here’s another one where the population isn’t huge but the amount of texts related to the characters is. Essentially this would be a narrative bomb, likely involving time travel or some other fantastical means to travel to a plethora of locations in the ancient world.

15. Histeria!

OK, imagine if you will a world wherein The Animaniacs and Tiny Toons were hits. Got it? OK, that’s where Histeria! will logically come into play. Now, it didn’t have nearly the run as those other Warner projects but I liked this one just as much. Similar, to Asterix in as much as this tales is mostly about history there’d be some way for the characters to go through the ages and also be a bit more dramatized than they were on the show.

16. Archie Comics

Anyone who has been reading the Life with Archie series knows that the Archie Comics are into breaking the mold now (Shameless self-promotion: I’ll discuss that further in an upcoming post). The same incarnations of the characters you grew up with still exist and can be exploited cinematically also, but the more mature mind-bending interpretation is the one with the most potential.

17. Star Comics

OK, here’s another personal pick and one that’s far more likely if Marvel were to ever do shorts. The mash-up angle is that Star was an imprint dedicated mostly to licensed material but it also did include some newly created original characters namely Planet Terry, Wally the Wizard, Top Dog and Royal Roy. Crossing over could easily happen here. To further convince the cynic here’s the Marvel “bridge,” meaning how can we possibly get to Star characters: Reboot The Fantastic Four (Make tons of money), incorporate the Power Pack in a sequel (as they’ve always been connected through Franklin Richards [See, crossroads]) and then get around to Star via Fantastic Four and Power Pack.

18. Hanna-Barbera

We all know that this is a huge universe and also that they had crossovers, many of these are animated simply because the possibility of combining a large number of characters is very exciting

19. Stephen King

Here’s one I saw suggest by John Gholson on his twitter feed. I forget who he suggested but essentially with all of King‘s canon this could work any number of ways. It could be an assemblage of his greatest heroes, or it could also be new heroes and a few villains who survived (names avoided to not spoil). The third possibility is a poor, unfortunate schmuck goes through a horrific tour through King’s Maine, without any need to justify it. Because you don’t need one sometimes as King himself stated in Storm of the Century ‘When his life was ruined, his family killed, his farm destroyed, Job knelt down on the ground and yelled up to the heavens, “Why God? Why me?” and the thundering voice of God answered, “There’s just something about you that pisses me off”.’

20. The Kids in the Hall

I preface this choice by saying I adore Brain Candy, I know I’m in a minority when I say that but I do. However, that’s not to say I wouldn’t love to see a Kids in the Hall film where they play say 995 out of 1000 characters and bring in many of their famous characters. One needs to only see the rendition of a film not unlike Kiss of the Spider Woman that Bruno Puntz Jones (David Foley) and Francesca Fiore (Scott Thompson) do to know how cinematic they can be and how easily they can pull it off.

61 Days of Halloween- It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown (United Features Syndicate)

It’s true that it would be hard to twist the philosophies and beliefs held by any character in the Peanuts gang such that you could call it a horror film. Although I must say waiting annually for a benevolent being only you believe in, having your friends mock you for it, and not seeing it is horrific; It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown cannot be classified as a horror film.

What it is, is a Halloween staple. What are holidays without traditions and for the triad of celebrations near the close of every year these specials are markers and mandatory viewing for each? There are plenty of reasons why.

Firstly, aside from encompassing much of what we already know and love about the holiday it adds some things to the mix and gives food for thought. Linus’s aforementioned obsession with The Great Pumpkin is the perfect illustration of a child’s elevation of the day.

What’s more despite its being loosey goosey with its pace and plot, its whimsy seemingly belying its 25-minute running time there is still a protagonist’s journey. Linus is subject to ridicule, manages to bring one person over to his side temporarily only to see him defeated in the end.

Yet there is still a humanity to it. Lucy, of all people, sets her alarm for midnight sees he’s not in bed and salvages him from sleeping all night in the freezing pumpkin patch.

The voice casting early on in these specials is great and remained so through the years for Charlie Brown specials came for years and years but the likes of Peter Robbins (Charlie) and the scene-stealing Christopher Shea (Linus) had to be replaced frequently as did the other kids.

Of course, you also have Vince Guaraldi’s music. A testament to his lasting impact is that you hear the first few notes of that theme and even without visual aids you know that’s the Peanuts.

It starts with a wonderful dialogue-free sequence where Linus and Lucy pick a pumpkin but it also folds in Snoopy’s plot line, which is typically no more than comic relief, so neatly. In the end he too has a journey, as many kids do, of wild imagination on All Hallows’ Eve.

There is a sequence of animation that has to it a touch of Disney-like surrealism and the whole thing has a much more refined and well-crafted feeling than the more emotionally involving Christmas special.

Yes, this short little film is a Halloween tradition of mine and I could go on talking about it but the bottom line is that it is the best kind of tradition, which is one that you don’t feel is an imposition but rather one that you relish.

10/10