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Lucy plunges a knife into a pumpkin

From the DVD case: This Halloween is very special for good ol’ Charlie Brown. He’s finally been invited to a party! Snoopy gets to join the fun, so look out, Red Baron! Linus will find out once and for all if the Great Pumpkin will rise up out of his pumpkin patch “with his bag of toys for all the good children.” (1966, color)

Special Note: The following isn’t so much a review as unabashed gushing praise for a Halloween favorite from my childhood. True fans of horror/science fiction may choose to skip this particular entry and wait for my next review. However, if you share my love of this cartoon, be sure to click on the words in bold to view images that would not fit within the confines of these meager paragraphs.

Mark says: I know what you’re thinking. What is a Peanuts cartoon doing on a site devoted to reviewing vintage sci-fi/horror films? Well just take a gander at the screen capture above and note how viciously (and gleefully!) Lucy chops into that pumpkin. This was years before slasher flicks like Halloween and Friday the 13th became popular. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that those movies weren’t directly inspired by Lucy’s sadistic assault on that pumpkin. Not to mention that opening sequence where the Peanuts gang is chased by skeletons, ghosts, floating pumpkins, a black cat, and witches. If that isn’t the true essence of horror, I don’t know what is.

Charlie Brown jigOk, I’ll admit it, I just love this cartoon, and since this is my blog I’ll review what I please. I’ll readily state up front and without reservation: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is the greatest of all Halloween specials. Period. I often dance a little jig (similar to Charlie Brown in the image on the left) immediately before watching this program. I don’t care what kind of dirty looks Lucy gives me. Or you, for that matter.

Wikipedia gives us a brief history:

It was the third Peanuts special to be produced and animated by Bill Melendez. Its initial broadcast took place on October 27, 1966, on the CBS network; CBS re-aired the special annually through 2000, with ABC picking up the rights beginning in 2001. The program was nominated for an Emmy award. It has been issued on home video several times.

Holey GhostAs a kid I looked forward to It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown with an excitement I can only compare to the annual viewing of The Wizard of Oz. These were the days before VCRs and DVDs, and if you missed the Peanuts Halloween Special there was no opportunity to see it again until the next year. Perhaps this is why my generation cherishes such cartoon classics so strongly. There really was a sense of anticipation that seems to be lost in our current world of pay-per-view television and microwave popcorn. (If I have any extra time, I’ll relate my stories of how many miles I had to trudge to school each day.)

The Perfect ModelCharles Schulz had an uncanny way of tapping into that inner child and reminding us of the simple joys (and woes) of childhood. If I ever identified with a cartoon character as a boy, it was Charlie Brown. It is reported on the IMDb trivia page that after the original airing of this program, “children all over the country sent candy to Charlie Brown out of sympathy.” I must not have been alone in my empathy for the strange round-headed kid who so desperately wanted to belong but never seemed to quite fit.

Great PumpkinI’m amazed at how well (and how simply) this cartoon captures the feel of Autumn and Halloween. Just watching Linus kick through some leaves fills me with a joy that I can rarely rekindle in the natural world. This is the magic of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. It gives us the chance to relive our childhood without the drawback of being senile. Take special note of the Fall colors in the backgrounds. I find the night scenes to be particularly atmospheric.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is loaded with great gags. Lucy’s old trick of pulling the football away from Charlie Brown at the last second is made more laughable when she produces a “signed document” to lure Charlie into her snare. Of course, we ultimately discover that the document has not been “notarized” and, as usual, Charlie Brown ends up flat on his back. Like all classic cartoons, the humor appeals to adults as well as children (even though I’ve managed to make it sound somewhat lame).

I got a rockCharlie’s Brown’s repeated deadpan line, “I got a rock,” is now immortal and still funny. Additionally, after all these years, I continue to chuckle when Charlie Brown initially throws on his ghost costume to reveal that it is covered with eye holes. “I had a little problem with the scissors,” he laments. Shear Schulz poetry.

Snoopy’s adventure as the WWI flying ace was largely lost on me as a child. I remember being anxious to get back to the stories of Charlie Brown and Linus. However, with age I came to appreciate Snoopy’s battles with the Red Baron. Snoopy’s trek across the “French countryside” especially captures my attention as an adult. Even the horrors of trench warfare are alluded to in these scenes. I love all of Snoopy’s various silhouettes throughout the cartoon. And who can forget Lucy’s repulsion of being kissed by “poison dog lips?”

poison dog lipsWhat else can I say? Writing about this classic isn’t nearly as fun as watching it, and I’m certainly not doing it justice. The original music by Vince Guaraldi is wonderful, and the character voices are done by actual children (with the exception of Snoopy, who was characterized by Director Bill Melendez himself).

If for some sad reason you’ve never watched this timeless holiday special, I recommend you rent a copy before trick or treating. It puts that Garfield crap to shame, and perhaps you’ll regain some of the childhood innocence you thought was lost forever.

Directed by Bill Melendez.

Scene to watch for: Lucy states, “A person should always choose a costume that is in direct contrast to her own personality,” and then puts on the mask of a witch.

Line to listen for: “I wouldn’t want to be accused of taking part in a rumble.”

Trivia: When Lucy is sitting in front of the television, she is reading a TV Guide with a picture of her on the cover.

Bonus: Official Site of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ! ! out of 5.

IMDb Link

Conclusion

13 Comments

  1. Mark, this wasn’t aired as often in the UK but when it was it was always a treat. Great (and gushing) review and, imho, totally in line with the concept of the blog!

    Interesting to note that you waited with the same anticipation for the Wizard of Oz – another of my annual favourites along with Jason and the Argonauts (Christmas wasn’t Christmas when the UK stations stopped airing Jason every year)

    Have a great Halloween.

    T_ttlg

  2. Thanks Andy! I wanted to do something a little special for Halloween this year and so I thought I’d “review” this cartoon. I had to stop myself from retelling all the gags because 1) they aren’t as funny when I try to relate them, and 2) most people have already seen this gem several times.

    However, there is a woman I work with who has a 5 year old daughter and neither one of them has ever seen this cartoon! I was so astonished that I gave them my VHS version to watch tonight. I’m curious to discover if it still holds the same magic that it did with me and so many of my generation.

    Thanks again for dropping by, Andy, and a Happy Halloween to you!

  3. Awwww, cute! One of my comedians did a set as Linus last night at our Halloween show.

    I love this show. It’s still so sweet and powerful and real.

  4. Elizabeth: Though I always related to Charlie Brown as a kid, I always thought of Linus as my hero (especially in the Christmas special).

    It’s amazing to me how “sweet and powerful and real” this cartoon is to me even after 41 years. I’m so glad that you enjoy it, too.

  5. The Bill Melendez Peanuts specials deserve unabashed gushing. They were an integral part of my childhood in the ’70s, too. It’s kinda sad (at least for a dude my age) that home video has ruined the childhood anticipation/glee of annual network broadcast specials by making everything available on demand. Man, The Wizard of Ox was an event in my household. So were the Peanut specials and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

    A few weeks ago, I ran into the old CBS Special Presentation bumper from the ’70s on YouTube. It produced palpable waves of nostalgia.

    On a side note, I just read your “I Have Returned” post. Man, I’m so sorry to hear that. It sounds like you’re on the upswing, though, and that’s a good thing. I’ll be praying for you.

    In any event, I’m glad we’re both back in the blogosphere.

  6. Dan! Great to see your comments on my page again.

    There are several times throughout the year when I’m tempted to watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown long before the Halloween season is upon us. But I usually have the willpower to hold off just so I can enjoy that lost sense of anticipation I had as a kid. I do the same with all the great Christmas specials, too.

    The Wizard of Oz truly was an event in our home. I had eight brothers and sisters and we’d all crowd around the television. Because I was one of the two youngest, I always got a spot right up front. Each year my little brother and I would try to get through the entire movie without closing our eyes during the scary parts. The flying monkeys always did me in, though. Even my dad, who was a very aloof individual, loved to watch The Wizard of Oz with us. He’d usually throw a book of matches on one of my sisters during a tense moment and they would scream out making the rest of us start, too. Great memories.

    As for the other stuff: I don’t like being divorced and always felt marriage was a sacred vow not to be taken lightly. Unfortunately, if both parties don’t believe that then there’s not a lot of hope for the relationship. I thought I married someone who felt the same way, but found out I was quite wrong.

    I think I am on the upswing, but keep those prayers coming, man! I can say without question that these have been the most heart-wrenching days of my life, and I’ve had a lot of them.

    It’s so great to see you’re still blogging. Thanks for your encouragement, and I hope to see you drop by often.

  7. I still don’t really get into the Red Baron scenes, but I love this cartoon overall. It’s one of my favorites. Excellent review.

  8. Churlita: Yes, I still prefer the interaction between the children than I do Snoopy’s “solo work.” As long as Charlie Brown and/or Linus is in a scene, it can hardly go wrong. Snoopy definitely has his charm, but I think a lot of it hinges on his relationship with Charlie Brown. Snoopy eventually became like “the Fonz” to me from Happy Days. That is, I prefer him as a minor character rather than a scene stealer. I never did get into Woodstock.

    That all said, I think Snoopy gives a fantastic performance in this cartoon, and some of the expression on his face (especially during the party) can make me laugh aloud just thinking of them!

    Thanks for dropping by Churlita; I’m always happy to seen you’ve been by.

  9. Hey Mark! Thanks for reminding me of the brilliance that is “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” I think I’ve always preferred “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” because it was hard for me to see Linus (one of my favorite characters) end up looking kind an idiot by the end of the show. I suppose it wouldn’t have been the same show if there really had been a Great Pumpkin.

    Now I’m kicking myself for missing it this year…

  10. Hey Mark! Thanks for reminding me of the brilliance that is “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” I think I’ve always preferred “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” because it was hard for me to see Linus (one of my favorite characters) end up looking like an idiot by the end of the show. I suppose it wouldn’t have been the same show if there really had been a Great Pumpkin.

    Now I’m kicking myself for missing it this year…

  11. Hey Ronson! Great to have you here and commenting. Twice, no less!

    I, too, prefer A Charlie Brown Christmas, but this is a very close second in the way of Peanuts specials.

    I don’t think Linus looks like an idiot at the end of the cartoon. I think he represents a certain innocence and faithfulness that only children seem to possess. Linus’ search for sincerity is actually quite touching and admirable. Give the little guy a break!

  12. Well, Linus’ rant at the end of the show spares him a little bit. And your interpretation is definitely a fresh perspective for me — perhaps “idiot” is a little harsh. :)

    Sorry about the double posting, I’m a little new to this word press place!

  13. Ronson: You can post as many times as you like. It gives me the illusion of traffic.


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