A Charlie Brown Christmas

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A Charlie Brown Christmas
Charlie Brown Christmas.jpg
Title Card
GenreAnimated TV Special
Created byCharles M. Schulz
Written byCharles M. Schulz
Directed byBill Melendez
Voices ofPeter Robbins
Chris Shea
Tracy Stratford
Kathy Steinberg
Chris Doran
Geoffrey Ornstein
Karen Mendelson
Sally Dryer
Anne Altieri
Bill Melendez
Theme music composerVince Guaraldi
Composer(s)Vince Guaraldi
Country of originUSA
Original language(s)English
Production
Executive producer(s)Lee Mendelson
Producer(s)Bill Melendez
Running time25 minutes
DistributorUnited Feature Syndicate (original)
Warner Bros. Television Distribution (currently for Peanuts Worldwide)
Broadcast
Original channelCBS (1965–2000)
ABC (2001–present)
Original airingDecember 9, 1965
Chronology
Preceded byA Boy Named Charlie Brown (1963)
Followed byCharlie Brown's All-Stars (1966)
 
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For the album of the same name, see A Charlie Brown Christmas (album).
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Charlie Brown Christmas.jpg
Title Card
GenreAnimated TV Special
Created byCharles M. Schulz
Written byCharles M. Schulz
Directed byBill Melendez
Voices ofPeter Robbins
Chris Shea
Tracy Stratford
Kathy Steinberg
Chris Doran
Geoffrey Ornstein
Karen Mendelson
Sally Dryer
Anne Altieri
Bill Melendez
Theme music composerVince Guaraldi
Composer(s)Vince Guaraldi
Country of originUSA
Original language(s)English
Production
Executive producer(s)Lee Mendelson
Producer(s)Bill Melendez
Running time25 minutes
DistributorUnited Feature Syndicate (original)
Warner Bros. Television Distribution (currently for Peanuts Worldwide)
Broadcast
Original channelCBS (1965–2000)
ABC (2001–present)
Original airingDecember 9, 1965
Chronology
Preceded byA Boy Named Charlie Brown (1963)
Followed byCharlie Brown's All-Stars (1966)

A Charlie Brown Christmas is the first prime-time animated TV special based upon the comic strip Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz. It was produced and directed by former Disney, Warner Bros. and UPA animator Bill Melendez, who also supplied the voice for the character of Snoopy. Initially sponsored by Coca-Cola, the special debuted on CBS in 1965, and has been aired in the USA during the Christmas season every year since: on CBS through 2000, and on ABC since 2001. Long an annual telecast, the special is now shown at least twice during the weeks leading up to Christmas. The special has been honored with both an Emmy and Peabody Award.

Plot[edit]

The story touches on the over-commercialization and secularism 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 (in his single Green Christmas) and Tom Lehrer (in his single A Christmas Carol) during the 1950s.

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 Christmas is approaching he still feels depressed, despite all the presents, cards and tree decorating, due to the over-commercialization of Christmas. His depression and aggravation only get exacerbated by the goings-on in the neighborhood. Though his mailbox is empty, he tries sarcastically to thank Violet for the card she "sent" him, though Violet takes his sarcasm literally.

Eventually, Charlie Brown visits Lucy in her psychiatric booth. Deciding that he needs more involvement, she asks him to direct a Christmas play. On the way to the auditorium, Charlie Brown stops by Snoopy's doghouse, only to find him busy decorating it. Snoopy hands him a flyer about a neighborhood lights and display contest, which upsets Charlie Brown because even his own dog has gone commercial. En route to the rehearsals, he 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 he is unable to control the situation as the uncooperative kids are more interested in dancing and lively music (particularly the "Linus and Lucy" song). 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." 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 sapling which is the only real tree on the lot.

Linus is reluctant about Charlie Brown's choice, but Charlie Brown is convinced that after decorating it, it will be just right for the play. They return to the auditorium with the tree and everybody laughs at Charlie Brown. In desperation, Charlie Brown begins to wonder if he really knows what Christmas is all about. Linus states he can tell him, and recites from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, verses 8 through 14 from the Authorized King James Version:

"'8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.'"

"...That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

Charlie Brown 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 play.

On the way, he stops at Snoopy's decorated doghouse, which now sports a first prize blue ribbon for winning the display contest. He puts an ornamental ball on the top of his tree; the branch, with the ball still on it, promptly flops over to one side instead of remaining upright, prompting him to declare "I've killed it" and run off in disgust at his perpetual failure.

The rest of the gang have quietly followed him from the auditorium. Linus goes up to the tree and gently props the drooping branch back to its upright position, wrapping his security blanket around the tree. After they add the remaining decorations from Snoopy's doghouse to the tree, the kids then start humming "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing". When Charlie Brown sees what they have done with the tree, he is surprised and the kids give him a Christmas greeting before singing the song, as Charlie Brown joins in.

Voice cast[edit]

Additional voices[edit]

Production and reception[edit]

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 in 1965.[1]

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), Linus (Christopher Shea), 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 Mendelson recalls that she needed to be cued "one line at a time" 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 includes a shot in which Schroeder abruptly stops playing the piano, but several of the characters continue dancing for a couple of seconds. Melendez said he remained somewhat embarrassed to see the show repeated every year with all its problems, but Schulz vetoed his idea of "fixing" the program years later.

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 a documentary about the making of the program (see below) stated that Charles Schulz was adamant about keeping this scene in, remarking, "If we don't tell the true meaning of Christmas, who will?"[2]

Another complaint was the absence of a laugh track, a common element of prime-time shows 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, though unauthorized copies have appeared on the internet.

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. 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."[3] Mendelson and Melendez said to themselves, "We've just ruined Charlie Brown."

The half-hour special first aired on Thursday, December 9, 1965, preempting The Munsters and following the Gilligan's Island episode "Don't Bug the Mosquitoes". 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's 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."[citation needed]

A total of 50% of the televisions in the United States were tuned to the first broadcast.[4] A Charlie Brown Christmas won an Emmy and a Peabody award, and is today considered to be one of the most beloved animated holiday specials of all time. The success of the animated special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, has given rise to numerous other Peanuts specials (including ten others that are also holiday-themed), a miniseries devoted to America (This Is America, Charlie Brown), a Saturday morning cartoon (The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show), and four full-length Peanuts feature films.

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 [it had previously been released on VHS through Shell Oil for sale at their gas stations]. The show's 40th anniversary broadcast on Tuesday, December 6, 2005, had the highest ratings in its time slot.

On December 6, 2001, a half-hour documentary on the special titled The Making of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (hosted by Whoopi Goldberg) aired on ABC. This documentary was released on VHS and DVD (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.

Live versions[edit]

Live theatrical versions of A Charlie Brown Christmas have been staged, notably by church groups who appreciate the biblical references. Actual children are used most often to play the parts and recite the lines, especially Linus' recitation of the Nativity story from the Gospel of Luke.

Removal of sponsor references and additional cuts[edit]

The original broadcasts included references to the sponsor, Coca-Cola.[5][6] Subsequent broadcasts and video releases mostly excised such references. CBS made additional cuts to the special over the course of the 1990s (including, briefly, standardizing the closing credits and removing the final hymn) to make more room for commercials; the removed content was restored by the time ABC took over the broadcast rights in 2000.

ABC currently airs two versions of the special each year. The first, which typically airs in conjunction with the network's in-house Prep & Landing franchise, eliminates approximately two minutes of the special.[7] The second airing is shown uncut (except for the Coca-Cola references) in a longer time slot.

Home video releases[edit]

Blu-ray release

In 1992, the special was released for a limited time on VHS through Shell Oil for sale at their gas stations. In September 1994 the special was released by Paramount on VHS. Hi-Tops Video, maker of the Baby Songs videos, has also released A Charlie Brown Christmas on VHS. A laser disc was released by Paramount (distributed by Pioneer) in 1996; Side 2 contained the 1979 special You're the Greatest, Charlie Brown.

In September 2000 it was released on DVD. Bonus features included the 1992 special It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown. On September 23, 2008, Warner Home Video (to which the rights to the Peanuts specials reverted earlier in the year, due to Melendez's connections to WB) released a "remastered" DVD. Bonus features include a restored version of Christmastime Again and a new documentary titled "A Christmas Miracle: The Making of A Charlie Brown Christmas". It is also available in a 4-disc box set with It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, also including an audio CD of Charlie Brown holiday music. It was yet again released by Warner Home Video on July 7, 2009 in a 2-disc box set called Peanuts 1960's Collection which featured all the Peanuts TV specials of the 1960s.

In the UK it was released along with "I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown"

Since off-network rights to this special have been transferred to Warner Bros. (via their respective home video and television divisions, and managed by its animation unit), this has become available as a download on the iTunes Store and the PlayStation Network's video store, and includes It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown and It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown. It is also available on high definition Blu-ray Disc from Warner in remastered Dolby 5.1 surround sound. This disc also contains It's Christmastime Again, A Christmas Miracle, a DVD of the special, and a Digital Copy.[8]

Influence[edit]

Cover from the soundtrack album for A Charlie Brown Christmas

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 Christmas 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. It also includes the full version of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" without the audio fade-out where the Coca-Cola voice-over originally was. Both of those missing themes are, however, available on another album by the Vince Guaraldi Trio entitled Charlie Brown's Holiday Hits.)

There was also a book-and-record set (featuring music, dialogue and stills from the television special) released in 1977 on a 33 RPM vinyl record by Disneyland Records.

The popularity of the special is said to have practically eliminated the popularity of the aluminum Christmas tree, which was a popular fad between 1958 and 1965, but because of the negative publicity the trees received in A Charlie Brown Christmas, quickly fell out of favor. By 1967, just two years after the special first aired, they were no longer being regularly manufactured.[9][10][11][12]

Other Christmas specials[edit]

Three lesser-known Christmas specials were produced decades after the 1965 original.

References[edit]

External links[edit]