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Television Special Review: A Charlie Brown Christmas
In 1965, Bill Melendez released A Charlie Brown Christmas, an animated television special based on the comic strip Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz. Starring Peter Robbins, Chris Shea, Tracy Stratfrod, Kathy Steinberg, Melendez, Chris Doran, Karen Mendelson, Geoffrey Orstein, Sally Dryer, and Anne Altieri, it has become an annual broadcast, airing during the Christmas season on ABC. It won the Peabody Award as well as Emmy Award for Outstanding Christmas Program and influenced the creation of such animated specials as How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Frosty the Snowman. There was also a stage adaptation made in 2013 which adds an optional sing-along at the end.
Charlie Brown is having a depressing Christmas season, having not received any cards and being roped into helping Lucy with her Christmas pageant. After failing at directing, Lucy tells him to find the perfect Christmas tree, but he comes back with a tiny sapling which exasperates the rest of the kids and leaves him to wonder if anyone knows what Christmas really is about.
A special thought by Schulz and Melendez to be the death of Peanuts, many consider Christmas to be incomplete without watching A Charlie Brown Christmas. Deservedly so, seeing as it’s a well done and engaging special. It turns some previously established characterization on its head, yes, showing said characters embracing the Christmas spirit. Take Lucy, who constantly antagonizes Charlie Brown with the football. Here, she actually seems to have faith in Charlie Brown and his ability to direct the Christmas play and is cheerful in helping him out. It demonstrates that she actually thinks that Charlie Brown isn’t a complete screw-up as all the other characters make him out to be. There’s also Linus, who never willingly lets go of his security blanket. But when he’s sharing the true meaning of Christmas and quoting the Gospel of Luke, the moment he says “fear not,” he drops it to continue his miniature sermon. It demonstrates that mentioning his faith and what he believes in is enough to calm his fears, allowing him to let go of his blanket.
Yet, Charlie Brown continues to be the same in characterization, playing the part of the down on his luck everyman. Interestingly it starts off with him experiencing the brunt of it with him being ignored by all the other kids, not even getting a single Christmas card, going right into being thrown against a tree and buried in snow. Charlie Brown’s mood really works in connection with the opening song, which states that “Christmas time is here” with ”happiness and cheer,” but sounding depressing, showing that while Christmas is supposed to be a cheerful time, it really brings him down. Further, it makes a lot of sense that he’d choose the most pitiful looking tree on the lot. He sees the similarities between him and the tree, which is alone and unloved, passed by everyone during the Christmas season. So therefore, he decides to give it the love, nurturing and attention that he’s been hoping for from the rest of the kids.
But though that all makes sense and helps to make the special well-done, what’s really notable is the staying power it’s had, with a message that’s been told countless times. However, the reason it has a perpetual seasonal draw could be how it’s presented. It’s been noticed before that the plot revolves around the setting up of a Christmas pageant and having the moral come before curtain and the show isn’t presented during the special at all. It’s been noticed before that the special itself might very well be the kids putting on the pageant. Like everything else, it’s a reasonable theory that has substantial evidence to back it up. The backgrounds are incredibly simple, almost looking like they’re sets that would be up in a stage play and though the camera pans out to show an empty theater, which could also be part of the background, with the Fourth Wall be where the stage begins. That portion is further evidence, seeing as there’s somebody in the area to put a spotlight on him when he calls for it. Finally, it presents the usual theme of not letting the commercialization of Christmas bring celebrants down but does so in such an obvious and simple way that’s reminiscent of middle school plays.
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