A Charlie Brown Christmas is the first animated television special based on the popular newspaper comic strip Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz, and also the first Christmas special for the franchise. It was produced and directed by former Warner Bros. and UPA animator Bill Melendez, who also supplied the voice of Snoopy. Originally sponsored by Coca-Cola, the special debuted on CBS in 1965, and has been aired during the Christmas season every year since (on CBS through 2000, and on ABC since 2001). The special has been honored with both an Emmy and a Peabody Award.
It is the Christmas season, but while the rest of the Peanuts gang is out ice skating, Charlie Brown is feeling depressed. He confides this fact to Linus, citing his dismay with the over-commercialization of Christmas and his inability to grasp what Christmas is all about, which Linus dismisses as Charlie Brown's typical behavior at first. Later, Charlie Brown goes to visit Lucy at her psychiatric booth, and she recommends that he direct the school's Christmas pageant in order to lift his spirits. On his way to the auditorium, Charlie Brown finds his dog Snoopy decorating his doghouse for a neighborhood lights and display contest, and is dismayed to see that his own dog has gone commercial. He then runs into his sister Sally, who asks him to write her letter to Santa Claus. When she tells him to put in a request for money ("tens and twenties"), Charlie Brown becomes even more dismayed.
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, particularly Schroeder's rendition of "Linus and Lucy." Charlie Brown, on the other hand, is determined not to let the play become commercial and to focus on the traditional side of the story.
Thinking the play requires "the proper mood", Charlie Brown decides they need a Christmas tree, so Lucy dispatches Charlie Brown to go get a "big, shiny aluminum tree". Accompanied by Linus, Charlie Brown heads off to the Christmas tree lot and finds a small baby tree which is the only real tree on the lot. Linus is not sure about Charlie Brown's choice, but Charlie Brown is convinced that after decorating it, it will be just right for the play.
When they return to the school auditorium with the tree, everybody, especially Lucy, laughs at Charlie Brown about his choice. Second guessing himself, Charlie Brown begins to wonder if he really knows what Christmas is all about, loudly asking if anyone can tell him what Christmas is all about, to which Linus eloquently responds by quoting the second chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, verses 8 through 14 from the Authorized King James Version:
|“|| And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 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. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not. For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David: a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger'. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men'.
That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
Charlie Brown now realizes he does not have to let commercialism ruin his Christmas. With a newly found sense of inspiration, he quietly heads home with the tree, deciding to decorate it and show the others it will work in the play. He arrives home to find that Snoopy's doghouse has won first prize in the decorating contest. But when he places a single ornament from the doghouse onto his tree, the whole thing bends over, and Charlie Brown is afraid that he has killed it. However, the rest of the gang comes to cheer him up, with Linus wrapping his blanket around the tree and everyone else placing the remaining decorations from Snoopy's doghouse to the tree, much to Charlie Brown's surprise, and then singing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" along with him.
Production and reception
Bringing the Peanuts characters to television was not an easy task. The production was done on a low 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), Linus (Christopher Shea), and Lucy (Tracy Stratford), none of the children had any experience doing voice work.
CBS' 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. Among them, the executives had problems with the scene with Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke (because they assumed that viewers would not want to sit through passages of the King James Version of the Bible; Charles Schulz insisted on keeping this scene in, remarking, "If we don't tell the true meaning of Christmas, who will?"), the absence of a laugh track, the use of children doing the voice acting, and the jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi (which they thought 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. CBS programmers were equally pessimistic, informing the production team, "We will, of course, air it next week, but I'm afraid we won't be ordering any more." Mendelson and Melendez said to themselves, "We've just ruined Charlie Brown."
To the surprise of the executives, the premiere of A Charlie Brown Christmas was the second-highest rated program of the week, reaching well over 15 million homes. Second only to the blockbuster Bonanza, the special was watched by more people watched that week than Lucille Ball, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Beverly Hillbillies.
In the following years, A Charlie Brown Christmas reached an even larger audience. Two airings of the special appear on the "All-Time Top 10 Christmas Ratings" list -- 1967, which got a 34.3, and 1969, which got a 34.8 rating. The only other shows rated higher than the 1969 Charlie Brown Christmas are the annual Bob Hope Christmas Specials, a popular tradition in the late 60s and early 70s.
Broadcast history and availability
CBS held broadcast rights to the special from 1965 until 2000. Afterwards, ABC took over broadcast rights to this and other Peanuts animated holiday specials (including the traditional Halloween special, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown) in 2001.
To allow the full special to play, ABC's broadcasts of the special usually run for an hour-length slot, with Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales, which premiered in 2002, filling out the rest of the hour. Prior to the later special being made, the ABC broadcasts in 2001 instead had a "making of" documentary accompanying the original special. The Making of A Charlie Brown Christmas, curiously, has not accompanied the original special on any video release, instead appearing as a bonus feature on Paramount's DVD release of I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown.
The 2015 broadcast, in honor of the special's 50th anniversary, was preceded by a retrospective special titled It's Your 50th Christmas, Charlie Brown, hosted by Kristen Bell. The documentary featured performances of various Peanuts songs by David Benoit, Sarah McLaughlan, Matthew Morrison, Boyz II Men, Kristen Chenoweth (who had played Sally in the 1999 Broadway revival of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown and provided the vocal effects of Fifi in The Peanuts Movie), Pentatonix, and the All-American Boys Chorus. It also included interviews with the cast and crew members (including one with Stacy Ferguson, who voiced Sally in 1984 and 1985) and montages of clips from later Peanuts cartoons (originally used in the 1990 anniversary special You Don't Look 40, Charlie Brown).
Home video releases
The special was first released to home video by Hi-Top Video in 1984. It was released on VHS again in 1990, this time being sold exclusively at Shell gas stations. The special was released on VHS again when Paramount Home Video acquired the video rights to the Peanuts cartoons in 1994. Paramount reissued the tape in 1996, this time in a plastic case. At the same time, they also released it to Laserdisc; this release also included the non-holiday Peanuts special You're the Greatest, Charlie Brown. Paramount later released the special on DVD in 2000, where it was accompanied by It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown. This DVD was also sold in a box set alongside Paramount's DVD releases of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.
Following Warner Home Video's acquisition of the video rights to the Peanuts specials, a "Remastered Deluxe Edition" DVD was released on September 23, 2008, again with It's Christmastime Again as a bonus special, but also with a new behind-the-scenes featurette. Like Paramount, Warner Home Video also included the DVD in a box set with their own DVDs of the Halloween and Thanksgiving specials. Warner also made the special available as an iTunes and PlayStation Network digital download, also accompanied by not only It's Christmastime Again, but also the non-holiday special It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown. A year later, Warner released a Blu-ray of the special, containing the same content as the DVD. Warner Home Video also included the special in the 2-disc Peanuts 1960s Collection DVD set, released on July 7, 2009. The special was released on DVD again, this time with a "50th Anniversary Edition" label, on December 2, 2014 (a full year before the special's actual 50th anniversary).
The special has notably not been shown in its original form since the 1960s, due to having to cut out plugs for the special's original sponsor, Coca-Cola. In the original airing, immediately following Charlie Brown crashing into the tree during the opening sequence, Snoopy then tosses Linus at a sign that says "Brought to you by the people in your town who bottle Coca-Cola" (an alternate take, in which the sign instead says "DANGER", was made and used in early promos advertising the special, but it is unknown what happened to this version), and the end credits used to close with a subtitle reading "Merry Christmas from your local Coca-Cola bottler."
From 1966 through 1996, subsequent broadcasts cut out the scene where Patty and Linus catch snowflakes on their tongues, and then Lucy, Schroeder, Charlie Brown and Linus throw snowballs at a tin can on a fence. This scene was reinstated in the 1990 VHS release (and all subsequent video releases) before eventually returning to the televised broadcasts in 1997.
In 2009 and 2011, ABC aired a shortened version of A Charlie Brown Christmas alongside the premieres of the Prep & Landing specials, with the unedited version (and Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales) airing a week later. In addition to again removing the above-mentioned scene with the kids catching snowflakes on their tongues and throwing snowballs at the can, these particular broadcasts had the following scenes cut to create space for more commercials:
- While Pig-Pen is building a snowman, Charlie Brown approaches and comments on the dust cloud kicked up in the snowstorm.
- Snoopy eating a stack of bones while reading a newspaper on top of his doghouse.
- Sally asking Charlie Brown to help her write a letter to Santa Claus.
- Shermy's only line after being informed by Lucy that he will be playing a shepherd in the Christmas play.
- Lucy asking Schroeder to play a simple version of "Jingle Bells", only to hear him play three of them (conventional piano, Hammond organ, and toy piano on one finger).
It could also be worth noting that the Linus's recitation of Scripture was incorporated in such a way that it forms the climax of the film, thus making it impossible to successfully edit out.
A Charlie Brown Christmas features original music written by Vince Guaraldi, and performed by his jazz trio.
A soundtrack album of the special's musical score was released in 1965 by Fantasy Records, which was a well-known jazz label, and Guaraldi's home label at the time. The album became an instant classic, and remains available to this day. A single of "Christmas Time is Here", backed with "What Child is This", was also released.
In addition to the score album, in 1977 Charlie Brown Records (distributed by Disneyland/Buena Vista Records) released a book and record set, with a catalogue number of 3701, containing an LP of the special's entire soundtrack (with some very minor cuts), including songs, dialogue, and sound effects. It also included a 12-page booklet with pictures from the special. Charlie Brown Records also released a condensed version of the special's story on a 7" 33 1/3 RPM book and record set, with a catalogue number of 401.
Parts of the special's score - specifically, "Christmas Time is Here", "Christmas is Coming", and "Skating" - were rearranged by Christophe Beck for the score to The Peanuts Movie in 2015. The original "Christmas Time is Here" song and the original "Skating" music piece also appear on the movie's soundtrack.
- Aluminum Christmas trees, like the kind Lucy recommends Charlie Brown getting, were a real-life holiday decoration that were popular at the time this special aired, though they were artificial trees with metallic needles rather than the hollow metal cones like the ones seen here. They became a lot less popular after the advent of this special, with artificial trees nowadays being made to look closer to real trees, with only the "trunks" being made of any kind of metal.
- Christopher Shea, who voiced Linus, would star in the first Christmas episode of That Girl, "Christmas And The Hard Luck Kid", broadcast a year later.
- In a real-life version of life imitating art, because of budget cuts, the city of Concord, California had a "Charlie Brown Christmas Tree" for the 2009 holiday season in the city's Todos Santos Plaza.
References in other media
- A Charlie Brown-like Christmas tree makes an appearance on the set of the Joker's TV special in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Christmas With the Joker".
- During the song at the end of the Tiny Toon Adventures episode "It's a Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas Special", the line "If your Christmas tree's pathetic" is illustrated by a shot of Buster and Babs, drawn to look like Charlie Brown and Lucy, coming upon a tree like the one in the special, which then crumbles.
- In the Futurama episode "Xmas Story", a group of kids appear skating similar to the opening scene, right before Bender, having just fallen off a cliff, crashes through the ice and causes them to fall into the water.
- In two of the segments produced for A Very Cartoon Cartoon Fridays Holiday Special, characters from Dexter's Laboratory, Cow and Chicken, Johnny Bravo, The Powerpuff Girls, Ed, Edd n Eddy, and Courage the Cowardly Dog are shown mimicking the dancing scene and the closing scene.
- At the end of "A Johnny Bravo Christmas", Johnny and some of his party guests are shown mimicking the Peanuts gang's dancing moves.
- The FoxTrot strip published on December 20, 2001, has Peter watching the special on TV as an excuse to not do his homework. Andy makes him go do his homework anyway, though, because they have the special on videotape.
- The Sunday strip published on December 17, 2006, has Roger trying to find a Christmas tree, but all the ones at the lot are already sold. He then sees a little tree that hasn't been sold. The last panel shows him screaming in despair when he finds Linus and Charlie Brown walking away with the tree (which looks just like the one Charlie Brown picks up in the special).
- From 2002 through 2005, Nickelodeon ran a series of vignettes every Christmas, one of them a parody of A Charlie Brown Christmas starring the characters from Rugrats. Titled "A Chuckie Finster Christmas, Channukah, Kwaanza, Winter Solstice", the spot features Chuckie in the Charlie Brown role. Tommy later attempts Linus's recitation of Luke 2:8-14 in The Bible, prompting Angelica to scream "You blockhead! It's about the presents! Lots and lots of presents!", which the rest of the babies agree on.
- In The Fairly OddParents movie Channel Chasers, Charlie Brown's Christmas tree can be seen in the world of the Christmas special that Timmy, Cosmo, and Wanda briefly visit.
- In the Kim Possible episode "A Very Possible Christmas", as Ron is foiling his plans, Dr. Drakken yells out "All I want is what's coming to me! All I want is my fair share!"
- The Simpsons made the following references to the special:
- "Treehouse of Horror IV" ends with the cast yelling "Happy Halloween, everybody!" and begin humming "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" in the same way the kids did at the end of this special (complete with snow and Santa's Little Helper dancing like Snoopy).
- Similarly, the Christmas episode "'Tis the Fifteenth Season" ends with the cast singing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" in the same manner as the ending to A Charlie Brown Christmas.
- A later Halloween episode, "Treehouse of Horror IXX", features a imitation of the dancing scene in the segment "It's the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse!" (which itself is a parody of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown).
- The episode "Donnie Fatso", had Charlie Brown's Christmas tree make a cameo as Nelson Muntz's Christmas tree in the opening sequence's couch gag.
- The Internet cartoon Homestar Runner has made several references to the special, among other Peanuts references. A Holiday Greeting, for instance, features Strong Bad trying to sing "O Holy Night" in an auditorium identical to the one seen in the special.
- The Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends Christmas episode, "A Lost Claus", uses a jazz musical style in the soundtrack similar to this special. It also features a cameo appearance by Snoopy's decorated doghouse and Charlie Brown's Christmas tree.
- A deleted scene from Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas shows a young Daffy Duck trying unsuccessfully to hang an ornament on a Christmas tree resembling Charlie Brown's.
- At the beginning of the American Dad! episode "The Most Adequate Christmas Ever", Haley states "I picked up all the Charlie Brown holiday specials, from the very first one where he learns the true meaning of Christmas to the one from the '80s where he meets the kid with AIDs." (The latter description is probably a reference to the 1990 Peanuts special Why, Charlie Brown, Why?, which featured a character with leukemia and was partially set during Christmastime.)
- In the Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! episode "O' Figgity Fig Tree", there is a parody of the dance scene of the special. Also, in "A Great and Grumpy Holiday", Wubbzy goes past the tree from the special while looking for a tree to put in Wuzzleburg Square (and muttering "Oh, good grief" in response).
- The end credits of Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation! has a shot with Phineas, Ferb, and their friends mimicking the dancing scene.
- Charlie Brown's Christmas tree can be seen in the background of Magee's office in Prep & Landing and Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice.
- The title of The Cleveland Show episode "A Cleveland Brown Christmas" is a direct parody of this special's title.
- In the iCarly episode "iChristmas", Carly, Sam, Freddie and Spencer hum "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing", similar to the scene where the kids hum the song.
- Charlie Brown's Christmas tree appears in the title card for the Fish Hooks episode "Merry Fishmas, Milo".
- In the Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil episode "Poll Position", the scene with Gunther's speech about how class elections work is done similar to the scene with Linus' speech.
- The House, M.D. episode "Deception" ends with a recording of the song "Christmas Time is Here" from the special, even though it has very little to do with Christmas.
- The Johnny Test episode "Good Ol' Johnny Test" was a direct parody of the special.
- The Loud House, which has referenced Peanuts several times, has naturally made specific references to this special:
- At the beginning of "Two Boys and a Baby", Lincoln does the same dance that "5" does.
- In "Snow Bored", the shot of Lincoln crashing his sled into a tree mimics the title card shot.
- In "Homespun", in a flashback where Mr. Loud tries to fix the TV antenna, a parody of the special's opening scene appears on the family's TV.
|Peter Robbins||Charlie Brown|
|Tracy Stratford||Lucy van Pelt|
|Christopher Shea||Linus van Pelt|
|Kathy Steinberg||Sally Brown|
|Chris Doran|| Schroeder|
|Sally Dryer||Violet Gray|
- ↑ A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition, by Lee Mendelson with reminiscences by Bill Melendez. 2000, HarperCollins Publishers Inc. The book's information is quoting an Advertising Age top ten list from January 10, 1966.
- ↑ A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition, by Lee Mendelson with reminiscences by Bill Melendez. 2000, HarperCollins Publishers Inc.
- ↑ Platypus Comix: Rarest Moments From Your Favorite Shows
- ↑ City Opts for "Charlie Brown Christmas Tree", KTVU.com, December 4, 2009; retrieved December 13, 2009
- 40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas - an album released for the special's 40th anniversary
- Peanuts Wiki: A Charlie Brown Christmas
- A Charlie Brown Christmas at the Internet Movie Database
- A Charlie Brown Christmas at the Big Cartoon DataBase
- A Charlie Brown Christmas at TV Tropes
- Archived ABC Feature Page for A Charlie Brown Christmas
|Christmas Specials Based on Comic Strips|
|Peanuts||A Charlie Brown Christmas • "The Play" • It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown • Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales • I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown • "Christmas is Coming"|
|Garfield||A Garfield Christmas Special • "Heatwave Holiday" • "Caroling Capers" • "Home for the Holidays"|
|Popeye||Seasin's Greetinks! • Mister and Mistletoe • "Spinach Greetings"|
|Dennis the Menace||"The Christmas Story" • "The Christmas Horse" • "The Fifteen-Foot Christmas Tree" • A Dennis the Menace Christmas|
|Other comic strips||The Captain's Christmas • "Hazel's Christmas Shopping" • "A Christmas Tale" • "Just 86 Shopping Minutes Till Christmas" • "Christmas with the Addams Family" • A Family Circus Christmas • Ziggy's Gift • The Bestest Present • "North Pole Cat" • A Wish For Wings That Work • A Christmas Angel • "A Baby Blues Christmas Special" • "A Huey Freeman Christmas"|