Reviews

Review: A Charlie Brown Christmas

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I didn’t get into Peanuts when I was young enough to be part of its supposed target demographic. When I was a child, the comic strip and its animated incarnations seemed dull and childish in comparison to what entertainments like The Simpsons, Ren and Stimpy, and Calvin and Hobbes had to offer.

At the age of 12 or 13 I finally got into Charles Schulz’s masterpiece, thanks to daily re-runs of the prime-time specials and The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show on Nickelodeon. My adolescent self related to Charlie Brown completely, and I finally realized that it was me who wasn’t sophisticated enough for Peanuts, and not the other way around.

I didn't get into Peanuts when I was young enough to be part of its supposed target demographic. When I was a child, the comic strip and its animated incarnations seemed dull and childish in comparison to what entertainments like The Simpsons, Ren and Stimpy, and Calvin and Hobbes had to offer.

At the age of 12 or 13 I finally got into Charles Schulz's masterpiece, thanks to daily re-runs of the prime-time specials and The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show on Nickelodeon. My adolescent self related to Charlie Brown completely, and I finally realized that it was me who wasn't sophisticated enough for Peanuts, and not the other way around.{{page_break}}

I didn't see A Charlie Brown Christmas for the first time until years later, as part of a high school Psych class. When the teacher asked why we figured he might be playing a Peanuts cartoon in class, I began to fanatically ramble and rave about how Charlie Brown is the quintessential everyman, how his feelings of alienation reflect our own, and the way his endless failures represent fundamental truths about the human condition. I'm pretty sure everyone in that class thought I was crazy, but I sat back and took in what is quite possibly the best Peanuts cartoon ever. Yes, even better than It's the Girl in the Red Truck, Charlie Brown.

The animation, which might appear somewhat crude at first glance, has a life and charm to it that most animated projects can only dream of. While the limited frames and recycled animations make its low budget clear, each individual drawing is a mini-masterpiece of cartooning. Bill Melendez and his staff did an incredible job expanding on the world of Peanuts and bringing its characters to life, and I'd take the warts-and-all look of A Charlie Brown Christmas over 90% of the cartoons coming out today.

It's also completely hilarious and poignant, thanks in no small part to Schulz's writing. In viewing the special for the millionth time this morning I expected to simply refresh my memory, but I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud several times. For every cute “aww” joke there are a few that are decidedly more subtle and biting.  The special retains a sharp satirical edge to this day, even if its points about commercialism feel a bit ironic in light of the millions that Schulz has made merchandising his creation. Also worthy of note is Linus's climactic speech, which feels almost subversive in its unabashedly direct reverence for Christian scripture. I may not be a religious guy, but the scene still gets me every time.

I would be remiss to neglect mentioning the Vince Guaraldi Trio's timeless score. In the years since the special's original airing, the songs have become as associated with Christmas as they are with Peanuts itself. The songs are absolutely beautiful, and remain the some of the only Christmas music that I can still endure. The special is a masterpiece of melancholy, and Guaraldi's music plays no small part in that.

Cohesion is what makes A Charlie Brown Christmas stand head and shoulders above most Peanuts specials and films. Most cartoons based on the strip tend to get distracted by meaningless non-sequiturs (usually involving Snoopy) or never settle into much of a solid story at all. This is most likely due to Charles Schulz's daily-strip brain being more wired toward short gags. I don't see this as a bad thing, but I definitely appreciate the focus A Charlie Brown Christmas has on telling one story. It's also a strong summation of the Peanuts universe, effortlessly laying down most of the relationships between characters and integrating them into the bigger picture. Watching it again was a pleasure, and I plan to continue doing so every year. 

My only question: how does the school play lay turn out, anyway?!

Overall Score: 9.00 –Supreme. (We’re lucky if even one film a year scores between 9.00 and 9.50, and these instant classics will go down as some of the best movies we’ve ever seen in our lives.)  

Much more than just the best Peanuts cartoon, A Charlie Brown Christmas may be the greatest holiday special of all time. It's smart, funny, heartwarming, and it has something for viewers of all ages. 

 

Geoff Henao:

Overall Score: 8.00 – Great. If you’ve never seen A Charlie Brown Christmas, you’ve never really experienced Christmas. While the animation and voice acting haven’t really stood the test of time, the message is timeless and relevant, even decades after its debut. You can read his review here.