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October 21, 2014

Festivus Retro Squad: A Charlie Brown Christmas

by Kevin Kelly, posted Nov 30th 2006 3:27PM
Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!
As someone who grew up during the 70s and the 80s, Christmas wasn't complete without several things. These included the Coca-Cola "I'd like to give the world a Coke ... " commercial, Mitch Miller's Holiday Sing-A-Long album, and A Charlie Brown Christmas on television. From those awesome Dolly Madison commercial to the spinning "CBS Special" animated logo opening and the strains of "Christmastime is Here," my little brother and I wouldn't move from in front of the TV until Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang were done singing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." This special, along with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, can teleport me back to my childhood faster than anything.

It's hard to believe that A Charlie Brown Christmas turned 40 last year. So what makes this special so endearing? For most people it's the pure and simple fact that it nails the meaning of Christmas like no other special ever has. When Linus marches out on that stage and recites from the book of Luke, he cuts through all of the glitz, wrapping paper, shopping frenzies, and commercialism and reminds us what Christmas is all about. Whether you believe in the Bible or not, the hubbub around the holidays obscure the religious origins of this time of year so well that we frequently get caught up in it all, and it takes a little kid with a penchant for blankets to help us remember.

And who doesn't identify with poor Charlie Brown on some level? Linus sums his problems up nicely when he tells him, "Maybe Lucy's right. Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you're the Charlie Browniest." He doesn't get any Christmas cards, no one listens to him while he tried to direct the Christmas play, his little sister wants tens and twenties from Santa Claus, and he picks a tree that needs some serious love in order to be appreciated. Not only that, but the whole gang (even Snoopy) ridicule him when he drags it in. Throwing him some zingers like:

  • "Boy, are you stupid Charlie Brown."
  • "He's not the kind you can depend on to do anything right!"
  • "You're hopeless Charlie Brown, completely hopeless."
Only Linus stands steadfastly by him. We're right there with Charlie when he takes his scraggly tree home and tries to dress it up with a single ornament from Snoopy's doghouse of Christmas Extreme. After it collapses and he walks off in defeat, the whole gang snazzifies the tree and shouts, "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!" Boy, they sure did turn on a dime, eh? I'm still convinced that Linus must have threatened them with his blanket or something. Whatever he did, it worked. This damn special still makes me cry, consarnit.

Still, despite all the tugging-at-the-heartstrings moments, my favorite scene is when Schroeder plays Jingle Bells for Lucy. His tries to put her in her place with his "plink-plink-plink" version of the song, but it's exactly what she's looking for. "THAT'S IT!"

What do you love (or hate) about A Charlie Brown Christmas?

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Toby OB

This ranks third among my favorite TV specials for this time of year. (And that's no slight, considering how many specials are out there now!)

But for me, 'How The Grinch Stole Christmas' and 'Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol' rank as Numbers 1 & 2. The music, the humor, the animation styles, the excellent adaptations of the storylines....

Still and all, all three cartoons bring a nostalgic tear to my eye when I watch them and think back to my childhood watching them 40 years ago (and sometimes more).

December 01 2006 at 12:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
TedSez

I loved this show when I was a kid, and it's amazing how, even now, no one has ever improved on it. It's still the best Christmas special ever.

Some of the great things about it:
* It was one of the first animated shows to use real little kids for the voices, rather than adult actors trying to sound like kids.
* The soundtrack really is spectacular. "Christmastime Is Here" has become part of the pantheon of classic carols. And the "Linus and Lucy" theme makes me happy whenever I see it. (It's even better with the kids' fun, goofy dance moves in the play-rehearsal scene.)
* By having Linus quote a brief passage from the New Testament, it provides a simple religious message without being preachy. I'm not Christian, but I love this scene.
* The "commercialism of Christmas" theme was a problem 40 years ago, and it's still one today. This special deals with it a lot better than, say, that new Matthew Broderick movie.
* It dealt with "holiday depression" years before anyone even used that term.
* The animation is simple, but the backgrounds are beautiful.
* It's actually funny. How often does that happen?

November 30 2006 at 4:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
MikeD

Best. Soundtrack. Ever. Vince Guaraldi. You can't find music like that in todays Christmas cartoons. Much less a theme so politically incorrect as to actually include the real reason Christmas exists.

November 30 2006 at 4:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sweet

Speaking of Rudolph, do you know when it will be airing yet?

November 30 2006 at 3:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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