Peanuts A Charlie Brown Christmas

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A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) is the first of many prime-time animated TV specials based upon the popular comic strip Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz. It was produced and directed by former Warner Bros. and UPA animator Bill Meléndez, who also supplied the voice for the character of Snoopy. Initially sponsored by Coca-Cola, the special aired on CBS from its debut in 1965 through 2000, and has aired on ABC since 2001. For many years it aired only annually, but is now telecast at least twice during the Christmas season. The special has been honored with both an Emmy and Peabody award.

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas is also one of CBS's most successful specials, airing annually more times on that network than even The Wizard of Oz . Oz was shown thirty-one times on CBS, but not consecutively; between 1968 and 1976, NBC showed the film.

Synopsis

On their way to join the rest of the Peanuts gang all skating on a frozen pond, Charlie Brown confides in Linus that even though the holidays are approaching he is still feels depressed despite all the presents and cards and tree decorating. His depression and aggravation only get exacerbated by the goings-on in the neighborhood. Though his mailbox is empty of Christmas cards, he tries sarcastically to thank Violet for the card she "sent" him, though Violet knows she did no such thing.

Charlie Brown (shouting after Violet as she walks away):
Don't you know sarcasm when you hear it?

Ultimately Charlie Brown visits Lucy in her psychiatric booth. On her advice, he gets involved in directing a school play about the Nativity. She also sympathizes with Charlie Brown about holiday depression, always getting "a lot of stupid toys" instead of what she really wants—real estate.

On the way to the auditorium, Charlie Brown is drawn to Snoopy, who is frantically and gleefully busy decorating his doghouse. Demanding an explanation, Snoopy hands Charlie Brown a flier about a neighborhood lights and display contest. Charlie Brown walks away in frustration at his own dog's being bitten by the commercial bug. He then gets accosted by Sally, who wants Charlie Brown to dictate a letter to Santa, in which she ultimately asks him (Santa) to "just send money", particularly tens and twenties, causing Charlie Brown to run away in exasperation of even his sister's commercial corruption.


A Charlie Brown Christmas DVD (Remastered Deluxe Edition)


 


 Peanuts Holiday DVD Collection Deluxe Edition (It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown / A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving / A Charlie Brown Christmas)

Charlie Brown arrives at the rehearsals, but try as he might, he cannot seem to get control of the situation as the uncooperative kids are more interested in modernizing the play with dancing and lively music. Charlie Brown, on the other hand, is determined to not let the play become commercial by directing the traditional side of the story.

Thinking the play requires "the proper mood", Charlie Brown decides they need a Christmas tree. So Lucy takes over the crowd and dispatches Charlie Brown to get a "big, shiny aluminum tree...maybe painted pink". With Linus in tow, Charlie Brown sets off on his quest. But when they get to the tree market, Charlie Brown zeroes in on a small baby tree which, ironically as well as symbolically, is the only real tree on the lot. Linus is reluctant about Charlie Brown's decision, but Charlie Brown is convinced that decorating it will be just right for the play.

They return to the school auditorium with the tree, only to be verbally castigated by everyone, especially Lucy, about his choice of tree. Second guessing himself, Charlie Brown begins to wonder if he really knows what Christmas is about, loudly asking in despair. Linus quietly says he can tell him, and walks to center stage to make his point. Under a spotlight, Linus quotes Scripture, particularly the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke, verses 8 through 14:

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Charlie Brown now realizes he does not have to let commercialism ruin his Christmas. With a newly-found sense of inspiration, he quietly picks up the little tree and walks out of the auditorium, intending to take the tree home to decorate and show the others it will work in the play.

On the way, he stops at Snoopy's decorated doghouse, which now sports a first prize blue ribbon for winning the display contest. Letting his dog's commercialism roll off his back, Charlie Brown takes an ornament off the doghouse and hangs it on his tree, but the ornament's weight is too much for the small branch and pulls it to the ground much to Charlie Brown's shock.

Charlie Brown (seeing the ornamented branch droop to the ground):
I've killed it. AUGHH! Everything I touch gets ruined! (he walks away, his head hanging in shame)

Unbeknownst to Charlie Brown, the rest of the gang, having also heard Linus' recitative, began to realize they were a little too rough on Charlie Brown and quietly followed him from the auditorium. Linus goes up to the little tree and gently props the drooping branch back to its upright position, ornament and all:

Linus:
I never thought it was such a bad little tree. (wrapping his blanket around the base of the trunk)
It's not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.

The rest of the kids grab the other decorations off of Snoopy's doghouse and add them to the tree. When they're done, even Lucy concedes to Charlie Brown's choice:

Lucy (in wonderment):
Charlie Brown is a blockhead, but he did get a nice tree.

The kids then start humming the traditional Christmas Carol, "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." When Charlie Brown returns, he demands to know what is taking place. When he sees what they have done with the tree, he cannot believe his eyes, and all the kids shout:
MERRY CHRISTMAS, CHARLIE BROWN!

At this point, the kids, now with Charlie Brown, begin singing "Hark.." as the end credits roll... and the snow again begins to fall.

 Themes

The story touches on the over-commercialization of Christmas, and serves to remind viewers of the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of Jesus Christ, continuing a theme explored by satirists such as Stan Freberg and Tom Lehrer during the 1950s.

History

Bringing the Peanuts characters to television was not an easy task. The strip's creators, with funding from sponsor Coca-Cola, presented the CBS network with an idea for a Christmas television special starring Schulz's characters.

The production was done on a shoestring budget, resulting in a somewhat choppy animation style and, from a technical standpoint, poorly mixed sound. With the exception of the actors who voiced Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins) and Lucy (Tracy Stratford), none of the children had any experience doing voice work. This was especially challenging for Kathy Steinberg, who voiced Sally: she was too young to read and needed to be cued line by line during the soundtrack recording. The technical issues are in evidence on the show's audio track, which to some may seem noticeably choppy and poorly enunciated. One of the more noticeable quirks in the special include a shot in which Schroeder abruptly stops playing the piano, but several of the characters continue dancing for a couple of seconds. Melendez has said he remains somewhat embarrassed to see the show repeated every year with all its problems, but Schulz vetoed his idea of "fixing" the program years later.

Charles Schultz Fought to Keep Scripture Verses In Show
Network executives were not at all keen on several aspects of the show, forcing Schulz and Melendez to wage some serious battles to preserve their vision. The executives did not want to have Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke; the network orthodoxy of the time assumed that viewers would not want to sit through passages of the King James Version of the Bible . A story reported on the Whoopi Goldberg-hosted version of the making of the program that Charles Schulz was adamant about keeping this scene in, remarking that "If we don't tell the true meaning of Christmas, who will?"

Another complaint was the absence of a laugh track, a common element of children's cartoons at the time. Schulz maintained that the audience should be able to enjoy the show at their own pace, without being cued when to laugh. (CBS did create a version of the show with the laugh track added, just in case Schulz changed his mind. This version remains unavailable.) A third complaint was the use of children to do the voice acting, instead of employing adult actors. Finally, the executives thought that the jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi would not work well for a children's program. When executives saw the final product, they were horrified and believed the special would be a complete flop.

The show first aired on Thursday, December 9, 1965, preempting The Munsters and following the Gilligan's Island episode entitled "Don't Bug the Mosquitos." To the surprise of the executives, it was both a critical and commercial hit. None of the special's technical problems detracted from the show's appeal; to the contrary, it is thought that these so-called quirks, along with several other choices, are what lent the show such an innovative, authentic and sincere feeling. For instance, Linus' recitation was hailed by critics such as Harriet Van Horne of the New York World-Telegram who said, "Linus' reading of the story of the Nativity was, quite simply, the dramatic highlight of the season."

A full 50% of the televisions in the United States were tuned to the first broadcast. A Charlie Brown Christmas won an Emmy and a Peabody award, and is considered by many to be a timeless holiday classic. Watching it is an annual tradition for countless viewers. The success of A Charlie Brown Christmas gave rise to a series of animated Peanuts TV specials, several full-length animated feature films, and a Saturday morning cartoon over the years.

In January 2000, one month before Schulz's death, the broadcast rights were acquired by ABC (as part of a deal between the network and Schulz), which is where the special currently airs (and has aired there since CBS's final airing of the special on December 25, 2000). On September 12, 2000, the special was released to DVD. The show enjoyed its 40th anniversary with its broadcast of Tuesday, December 6, 2005. This broadcast had the highest ratings in its time slot.

On December 6, 2001, a half-hour documentary on the special entitled The Making of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (hosted by Whoopi Goldberg) aired on ABC. This documentary was released (along with the special Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales) as a bonus feature with the special I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown on October 26, 2004.

Versions
The special has not been seen in its original, uncut form since the first three telecasts in 1965, 1966 and 1967. Much of this is due to the opening and closing credits containing references to Coca-Cola, the show's original sponsor. Specific, acknowledged cuts are:

* The main titles have Linus crashing into a Coca-Cola sign after Snoopy has spun both him and Charlie Brown around with Linus' blanket. In the versions currently available, the viewer never sees where Linus' trajectory lands him.
* In the "fence" scene, where several of the Peanuts gang are attempting to knock cans off a fence with snowballs, Linus is seen knocking down a can with his blanket. In the original airing, this is a Coke can, but was later replaced with a nondescript can.
* The final end credit originally had text and graphics wishing the viewer a "Merry Christmas from the people in your town who bottle Coca-Cola." This is why the "Hark!" chorus sung at the end trails off oddly before the song would normally end, as an announcer originally did a voice over this point in the credits to repeat and reemphasize the local bottler's well wishes to the TV audience (watch clip here:).

Although the FCC eventually imposed rules preventing sponsor references in the context of a story (especially children's programming), this had no effect upon the decision to impose these edits. The Coca-Cola product placement elements were removed when the company ceased being the sole sponsor, replaced in 1968 by Dolly Madison snack products, who continued to sponsor the Peanuts specials through the 1980s, along with McDonald's. While current FCC product placement rules would prevent restoration and broadcast TV airing, the sole reason this footage has not been restored for the DVD or VHS releases has been related to royalties that would have to be paid to The Coca-Cola Company for use of their trademarks.

Finally, there is some disagreement among those who have studied the various releases of the special about whether or not another edit was made after the initial airing. A quick — and arguably sloppy — cut occurs during the "Auditorium" scene, when the gang begins dancing to "Linus and Lucy" right after Charlie Brown gives his "am I right? I said, am I RIGHT??" speech. The moment of the cut occurs as the camera is zooming in on Schroeder, and quickly jumps to Linus dancing with Sally. The camera proceeds to pan around to the rest of the gang as they go through their own unique dance styles. The sloppiness of this cut is exacerbated by the fact that the music makes an audible jump as well, actually skipping several beats forward and sounding rather awkward. No information as to the nature of this cut has been determined, and none of the production staff (including director Bill Meléndez) can recall if or why such an edit was done.

Full cast

Peter Robbins: Charlie Brown

Christopher Shea: Linus van Pelt

Tracy Stratford: Lucille "Lucy" van Pelt

Kathy Steinberg: Sally Brown

Chris Doran: Schroeder and Shermy

Geoffrey Ornstein: Pigpen

Karen Mendelson: Patty

Sally Dryer: Violet Gray

Ann Altieri: Frieda

Bill Meléndez: Snoopy

 Influence

The musical soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, by jazz composer Vince Guaraldi, has become as well-known as the story itself. In particular, the instrumental "Linus and Lucy" has come to be regarded as the signature musical theme of the Peanuts specials. Additionally "Christmas Time is Here" has become a popular holiday tune. A soundtrack album for the special was released by Fantasy Records and remains a perennial best-seller. (While the soundtrack contains some music that does not appear in the TV special, it also fails to include two musical themes which appear in the special.)

A Charlie Brown Christmas is often credited with spearheading the popular stigmatization of artificial Christmas trees.

A Charlie Brown Christmas has also been performed as a charity stage program in live theatrical venues across the country.

Sequels

Three lesser-known true sequels were produced decades after the 1965 original.

* It's Christmas time Again, Charlie Brown (1992). This special was 30 minutes in length with commercials and aired on CBS. It was abandoned by CBS shortly thereafter; it was released on DVD as a bonus feature with A Charlie Brown Christmas.
* Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales (2002). This special is a slightly shorter 25 minutes with commercials and debuted on ABC. It has been released on DVD along with I Want a Dog for Christmas...
* I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown (2003) This special is a full hour long with commercials and debuted on ABC. It is available on DVD.

While not true sequels, three other Charlie Brown holiday season specials were produced and are generally regarded as higher quality than the '90s/'00s shows: 1973's A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (still aired annually on ABC), 1966's It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (also aired annually on ABC), and Happy New Year, Charlie Brown! from 1985.


A Charlie Brown Christmas Wallpaper

Linus Christmas Story Monologue
 

Peanuts TV Specials

Name Original Air Date Network Current Network
A Boy Named Charlie Brown 1963 Unaired None
A Charlie Brown Christmas December 9, 1965 CBS ABC
Charlie Brown's All-Stars June 8, 1966 CBS None
It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown October 27, 1966 CBS ABC
You're in Love, Charlie Brown June 12, 1967 CBS None
He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown February 14, 1968 CBS None
Charlie Brown and Charles Schulz May 24, 1969 CBS None
It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown September 27, 1969 CBS None
Play It Again, Charlie Brown March 28, 1971 CBS None
You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown October 29, 1972 CBS ABC
There's No Time for Love, Charlie Brown March 11, 1973 CBS None
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving November 20, 1973 CBS ABC
It's a Mystery, Charlie Brown February 1, 1974 CBS None
It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown April 9, 1974 CBS ABC
Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown January 28, 1975 CBS  
You're a Good Sport, Charlie Brown October 28, 1975 CBS None
Happy Anniversary, Charlie Brown January 9, 1976 CBS None
It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown March 16, 1976 CBS None
It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown October 24, 1977 CBS None
What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown February 23, 1978 CBS None
Happy Birthday, Charlie Brown January 5, 1979 CBS None
You're the Greatest, Charlie Brown March 19, 1979 CBS None
She's a Good Skate, Charlie Brown February 25, 1980 CBS None
Life Is a Circus, Charlie Brown October 24, 1980 CBS None
It's Magic, Charlie Brown April 28, 1981 CBS None
Someday You'll Find Her, Charlie Brown October 30, 1981 CBS None
A Charlie Brown Celebration May 24, 1982 (1981) CBS None
Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown? February 21, 1983 CBS None
It's an Adventure, Charlie Brown May 16, 1983 CBS None
What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? May 30, 1983 CBS None
It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown April 16, 1984 CBS None
Snoopy's Getting Married, Charlie Brown March 20, 1985 CBS None
It's Your 20th Television Anniversary, Charlie Brown May 14, 1985 CBS None
You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown November 6, 1985 CBS None
Happy New Year, Charlie Brown! January 1, 1986 CBS None
Snoopy!!! The Musical January 29, 1988 CBS None
It's the Girl in the Red Truck, Charlie Brown September 27, 1988 CBS None
You Don't Look 40, Charlie Brown February 2, 1990 CBS None
Why, Charlie Brown, Why? March 16, 1990 CBS None
Snoopy's Reunion May 1, 1991 CBS None
It's Spring Training, Charlie Brown 1992 CBS None
It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown November 27, 1992 CBS None
You're in the Super Bowl, Charlie Brown January 18, 1994 NBC None
It Was My Best Birthday Ever, Charlie Brown Straight to video (1997) Unaired  
Good Grief, Charlie Brown: A Tribute to Charles Schulz February 11, 2000 CBS None
Here's to You, Charlie Brown: 50 Great Years May 10, 2000 CBS None
It's the Pied Piper, Charlie Brown Straight to video (2000) Unaired  
The Making of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" December 6, 2001 ABC Unknown
A Charlie Brown Valentine February, 14, 2002 ABC ABC
Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales December 8, 2002 ABC ABC
Lucy Must Be Traded, Charlie Brown August 29, 2003 ABC Unnoted
I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown December 9, 2003 ABC ABC
He's a Bully, Charlie Brown November 20, 2006 ABC ABC

 

 The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show

Episode Name Original Air Date
Snoopy's Cat Fight 9/17/1983
Snoopy: Team Manager 9/24/1983
Linus and Lucy 10/1/1983
Lucy VS the World 10/8/1983
Linus' Security Blanket 10/15/1983
Snoopy: Man's Best Friend 10/22/1983
Snoopy the Psychitrist 10/29/1983
You Can't Win Charlie Brown 11/5/1983
The Lost Ballpark 11/12/1983
Snoopy's Football Career 11/19/1983
Chaos in the Classroom 11/26/1983
It's that Team Spirit, Charlie Brown 12/3/1983
Lucy Loves Schroeder 12/10/1983
Snoopy and the Giant 9/14/1985
Snoopy's Brother Spike 9/21/1985
Snoopy's Robot 9/28/1985
Peppermint Patty's School Days 10/5/1985
Sally's Sweet Baboo 10/12/1985

 

 This is America, Charlie Brown mini-series

Episode Name Original Air Date
The Mayflower Voyagers 10/21/1988
The Birth of the Constitution" 10/28/1988
The Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk 11/4/1988
The NASA Space Station 11/11/1988
The Building of the Transcontinental Railroad 2/10/1989
The Great Inventors 3/10/1989
The Smithsonian and the Presidency 4/19/1989
The Music and Heroes of America 5/23/1989

 

 Other Specials

Name Original Air Date Network
Snoopy at the Ice Follies 10/24/1971 NBC
Snoopy's International Ice Follies 11/12/1972 NBC
Snoopy Directs the Ice Follies 11/13/1973 NBC
Snoopy's Musical on Ice 5/24/1978 CBS
The Big Stuffed Dog 2/8/1981 NBC

 

Feature films

Movie Release Date
A Boy Named Charlie Brown December 4, 1969
Snoopy, Come Home July 14, 1972
Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown June 3, 1977
Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown June 13, 1980