A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) is
the first of many prime-time animated TV specials based upon the
popular comic strip
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.
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
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
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
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
ornament and all:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
A Charlie Brown Christmas has also been performed as a charity stage
program in live theatrical venues across the country.
Three lesser-known true sequels were produced decades after the 1965
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
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