Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Out of all the TMBC critics, it was probably easiest for me to figure out which classic Christmas movie I was reviewing. After all, a casual glance around my apartment and the various Snoopy dolls, Peanuts action figures and books littered amongst everything else reveals a casual obsession with all things Peanuts. So, it only makes sense for me to review the way-ahead-of-it's-time, still-relevant, still-heartwarming A Charlie Brown Christmas.....which was almost never made.
The familiar plot revolves mostly around Charlie Brown and his disillusion with the holiday season, which has become completely commercialized, and has distorted the true meaning of Christmas. To add to his holiday burden, he is picked to direct the Christmas pageant. Ignoring bossy Lucy's wishes for a large aluminum tree, he picks a small, pathetic tree that gets him laughed at by all the other kids.....except for Linus, who answers Charlie Brown's request for insight into the true meaning of Christmas with his iconic reading from Luke. When he is at the depths of his depair, having collapsed the tree with a single ornament from Snoopy's prize-winning decoration of his doghouse, Charlie Brown is joined by the other kids, whom Linus helped realize that they were too hard on Charlie Brown, and who promptly prop up and fix the pathetic tree with more decorations from Snoopy's doghouse. The special ends with the gang singing "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing."
Wait, that's all there is to the story? The above recounting and some little sketches comprise all of A Charlie Brown Christmas , which prompted shock and awe from studio executives upon it's proposal. First of all, the score was jazz. Jazz in a children's cartoon. Second of all, there was no laugh track. That was completely unthinkable at the time for a cartoon. Thirdly, with the exception of the boy voicing Charlie Brown and a few others, the voice actors were novices. Most of them couldn't even comprehend their lines, and read them off phonetically. This led to the familiar off-kilter phrasing rhythm in Peanuts cartoons from then on. Finally, the religious undertones in the special made execs squirm. Charles Schultz held the line on this point, with the rationale that "if we don't tell people what the true meaning of Christmas is, who will?" When screened for executives, they thought it was going to be a disaster, a total flop. Taking all the elements above, and adding the rushed, choppy animation, it seemed that A Charlie Brown Christmas was over before it began. But it aired, became a critical and ratings hit, and the rest is history.
One of the reasons the special is so good is that Shultz's vision is intact. Character depiction is accurate (Snoopy and Lucy are grade A jerks, all the way....), and the special has an organic feel unmatched by the later Peanuts christmas special. It's not hard to see why it's the second-longest running TV Xmas special, beaten only by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which debuted a year earlier. I give this enduring classic a 17, and wish you all a Merry Christmas!

Memorable Lines:

"Pig-Pen, you're the only person I know who can raise a cloud of dust in a snowstorm!"

"Get the biggest aluminum tree you can find, Charlie Brown, maybe painted pink."

"Rats. Nobody sent me a Christmas card today. I almost wish there weren't a holiday season. I know nobody likes me. Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?"

1 comment:

Wicked Little Critta said...

A very good, even educational review. It is surprising how simple yet effective A Charlie Brown Christmas is...I watched it the other day, and it was absolutely charming. Cute, funny, sweet and sentimental. I do recall a tear in my eye as well.