CftC: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

October is here, and this month, we’re going to do something a little different.

If Christmas weren’t around, Halloween would be my favorite holiday, hands down. It’s a night full of fun, possibility, and yes, even a bit of horror. Whether it’s the kid-friendly, cheesy, Hallmark side, the actually frightening “dark” side of Halloween that I get to see, or some unholy, scrambled combination of the two, I reeeeeaally look forward to October 31st every year.

And if there’s one thing I thank marketing for, it’s turning the holiday into its own season, with holiday specials and events you can do all month. Costumes, kids, candy, scary movies, haunted houses, corn mazes, and more, if you know where to look.

So I’m commemorating this glorious month with nostalgic movies and tv specials. Welcome to:

october

 

And we’re starting off right with perhaps the most famous and nostalgic special of all: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

 

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It’s one of the most memorable of the Peanuts’ segments (and, in my opinion, the best of the bunch). A fluid story that doesn’t feel too padded, with sketchy and watercolored skies, and the characters we know and love talking going on their own various suburban adventures. Specials like A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown owe their sorry excuses for plot to Great Pumpkin, and while I love A Charlie Brown Christmas, it has less plot, more muted colors, and just isn’t quite as interesting as the Halloween romp. It’s still a classic, though.

Great Pumpkin came out in 1966 (16 years after the comics first began to run in weekly newspapers), and for a time, it played once a year. “You either caught it, or you missed it,” my dad has said to me, because back then there was maybe one t.v. per house and only so many channels. Crazy, right?

This was the first special to use “, Charlie Brown” to finish off the title, the second of the holiday Peanuts specials, and the third of their specials to air on television, right behind Charlie Brown’s All Stars (in June of that same year) and A Charlie Brown Christmas (the year prior).

The style is, of course, hand drawn animation with lots of vibrant colors. The voice acting is typical for Peanuts; lots of child actors stumbling about trying to talk like adults, clearly not knowing what the words mean. But that lends the special, and the characters, a lot of charm and humor. The music was performed by jazz genius and early Peanuts composer Vince Guaraldi, with the song Linus and Lucy, the iconic Peanuts theme made popular in the Christmas special, frequently played throughout. New songs for Great Pumpkin include The Great Pumpkin Waltz, Breathless, Graveyard Theme, Trick Or Treat, The Red Baron, and Fanfare, and the World War 1 era songs used (it makes sense if you’ve seen the special all the way through, with no cuts) are “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag, Roses of Picardy, There’s a Long, Long Trail, and It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.

For as great as Halloween is, I’ve noticed that it lacks one officially appointed mascot. The closest (and most  notable contenders) I have found are Stingy Jack, Jack Skellington, and any of the classic movie monsters. You could point to any one of them and think Halloween, though, so I guess that works just as well.

But to get back on track, Great Pumpkin attempts to add a new potential mascot to the line up. The Great Pumpkin!…even though we’re not quite sure what he looks like.

It’s Halloween (of course), and Charlie and the gang get their costumes ready. It’s Sally’s first time, so she naively follows people around and asks questions.

Meanwhile, Linus writes a note to the one he calls “The Great Pumpkin:”

As you can see, everyone else reacts like this:

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But Linus doesn’t care. He keeps his faith in the Great Pumpkin strong, no matter what.

Hijinx ensue. And poor old Charlie gets a lot of rocks.

Incidentally, kids across the country sent candy to Charlie Brown after this special aired. Because they pitied him.

I won’t spoil the rest for all two of you that were just born or just now crawled out from under your rock, but suffice it to say, Halloween costumes have become a lot more…intricate in the last 60 years. And I’m not convinced that’s a good thing.

Another fun piece of trivia: the voice actress for Sally was about to lose a tooth at the time, so the producers rushed her to finish up her lines. The tooth popped out just as she finished the line, “You owe me restitution!”

The story is fun and cute; the obligatory Charlie Brown bashing comes off as funny rather than just sad; the lines and artwork are primitive (by today’s standards) at times, but classic and fun. Some character expressions can look a bit dead-eyed, but most of the time, they are so funny and familiar that it’s uncanny.

All around, this is a great special. You watch a fun, imaginative night of trick or treating that’s a part of animated (and comic) history, and it feels timeless despite the simplistic, homemade costumes and lack of cell phones or computers. Those aren’t really the focus, anyway.

Also, Snoopy is a boss.

snoopy

It’s a tradition in my family to watch it every year. If you haven’t seen it, or want to relive the heyday of Peanuts, stream it, buy it, rent it, or catch it (soonest) on ABC Thursday, October 15th at 8:30 EST.

Without my nostalgia glasses, I’d give it a solid 8/10.

*As per usual, most of the pics and clips don’t belong to me. The title card does, though. Twas done by the gracious and talented Zero, who can be found here. Check her out! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “CftC: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”

  1. I think the Great Pumpkin is more like Santa Claus (something to believe in) than any of the Halloween-specific characters in later works, all of whom live in a “Halloween” sort of world. They all seem to have been created specifically to sell movie tickets, then DVDs, then merchandise, in October. It doesn’t mean they aren’t crtically good works, or don’t have merit. They’re just…a different class of animal. IMHO, The Great Pumpkin is effectively Americana; less a Halloween story than a representation of a simpler time. Like a Norman Rockwell painting, it captures a time and a place gone by ~ before LSD- and razor blade- laced candy and kid snatching and being afraid to let your kids go out without you because you don’t know you’re neighbors names, let alone whether they’re good people or bad people. For me, The Great Pumpkin (and the ritual of watching it as a family) is almost bittersweet – something people over the age of 40 remember, mostly with fondness, but for anyone born after 1980, it must seem like a curiosity. A relic. The characters are all of us, sometimes all at the same time, competing for airtime: Charlie Brown (the optimist), Lucy (the cynic”), and Linus (the innocent). I think that’s why it resonates. That, and Vince Guaraldi.

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