Okay, so what's wrong with A Charlie Brown Christmas?
The answer, it might surprise you, isn't "nothing".
So let's get this out of the way right off the top. The animation is somewhat clumsy. The voicework is pretty bad in spots. And—horror of horrors—it actually culminates in the recital of a Bible verse. Luke 2: 8-14.
And the thing is, the suits at CBS knew all these problems in 1965. And more. The pace was glacial. There was no laugh track, unlike its successful cartoon contemporary The Flintstones. And instead of traditional Christmas music, the show boasted a jazzy set of tracks by Vince Gueraldi. The one thing the execs didn't seem to object to was the anti-commercialism bent of the main storyline, which was ironic given that the show was originally produced for and sponsored solely by Coca-Cola.
But it's these things that make this Christmas special so…well, special. A laugh track would have been laughable. The kids roles being voiced by real kids—and learned phonetically, too, which caused the odd cadence of certain lines, since the kids didn't really understand what they were saying—has become part of the Peanuts charm. As for the Biblical references, even those among us who might prefer our holiday specials a little more secular get captivated by Linus' scripture. Maybe it's the innocence of his delivery that does it—Linus is a pretty non-judgmental sort of guy. And seriously, the Vince Gueraldi soundtrack? A modern masterpiece of holiday music.
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So what's wrong with A Charlie Brown Christmas somehow turned out to be what was right about A Charlie Brown Christmas. Which means that what was right from the beginning has a chance to shine all the more. Throwing snowballs at a tin can on a fence. Skating on a frozen pond and snapping the whip. Lucy performing pop psychology for a nickel. Pig-Pen making a dirty snowman. And Snoopy, the quintessential fool, making fools of them all.
How can anyone resist Charlie Brown and his seasonal crisis of faith: "I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I don't feel happy. I don't feel the way I'm supposed to feel." This is the genius of Charles Schultz: it's a show with one of the deepest messages that holiday specials could attempt, a starkly religious message, no less, and one that could never get the green light in Hollywood today. And yet, still, it appeals to nearly everyone. The particulars of Peanuts were never the point—it's more about our basic humanity, and the idea that we're all in this together. There's something there that's universal, that extends beyond any King James quote.
And who among us hasn't felt like that scrawny, bent tree? Who hasn't needed someone to nestle us in a blanket, decorate us with a flurry of hands, and proclaim us not such a bad little tree? We all just need a little love, even if we can be blockheads. Is that sentimental? Absolutely. But the joy of A Charlie Brown Christmas is that sentiment isn't just okay—it's the way we're supposed to feel.
Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown. -- Teague Bohlen