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: A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is kind of like the middle child of the specials: it is often overlooked but it should not be. There is a lot that is good about the special which makes it deserving of more positive pub.

There is, as per usual, a good little bit of pedagogy in this short, however, there is so much more than that. In this special you get Snoopy’s funny, side-tracking antics playing very closely into the story as he not only sets the table but helps cook.

As Snoopy is making popcorn, there’s a New Wave like cut away from frozen popcorn exploding in mid-air but beyond film nerd things there is a charm to this one that is its own.

It’s due to two factors: first, these kids are having two Thanksgiving dinners. What’s not to like there? Second, I remember as a kid seeing Charlie’s plate and for the first time I saw a Thanksgiving meal where I could eat everything (I have a metabolic condition). However, even if your connection to his plate isn’t that close Patty is way harsh especially considering she invited herself and everyone else. Why does she expect Charlie to know how to cook, anyway?

Regardless, her coming down that hard makes the payoff even sweeter and makes this special at least as good as they other two.

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.

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.