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Friday, October 21, 2011

TGIF: It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

I always wanted a great excuse to feature the Peanuts gang in one of these blog entries, and I think today is a perfect day to do exactly that.


Well, because Halloween is fast approaching, and one of my all-time favourite Halloween television specials happens to star the Peanuts gang.

It's one of the many Peanuts specials filled with excitement, anticipation, humour, and disappointment all rolled into one twenty-five minute long cartoon. It was one of those Halloween specials where if you missed it, it just didn't feel like Halloween.

The topic for today is...”It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”

Can you believe that it's been almost 45 years since the special first aired on network television? “It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” premiered on October 27, 1966 on CBS, and for the next thirty-four years, the special would air on CBS every October. In 2001, ABC picked up the rights to all of the Peanuts specials, and since 2001, “It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” has aired on ABC.

It was the second holiday special for the Peanuts gang (the first one was A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965), and was written by creator Charles M. Schulz and produced and animated by Bill Melendez. The series proved to become one of the most memorable Peanuts specials of all-time, and is still enjoyed by generations of children today.

The series was so successful that for its 40th anniversary in 2006, a retrospective book was published entitled “It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: The Making Of A Television Classic”. The book contained the full script of the episode, never before seen photographs, storyboard excerpts, and exclusive interviews with the voice actors of the television special. On September 2, 2008, the television special was remastered and released on DVD, along with the 1981 special “It's Magic, Charlie Brown”. Ironically, the DVD release happened on the same day that Bill Melendez passed away.

The television special was one that asked just one simple question. “Does the Great Pumpkin really exist?”

For Linus Van Pelt, the answer was yes. He did. And he was going to prove it once and for all.

Certainly as children, we all may have wanted to stay up late to catch a glimpse of say, Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny. We may have snuck downstairs to the living rooms of our homes, just so we could see Santa Claus leaving the presents underneath the tree. That's just what kids did. So, I can understand Linus' need to want to wait outside in a pumpkin patch in hopes of meeting the Great Pumpkin.

The whole Great Pumpkin storyline originated in the Peanuts comic strip, drawn by Schulz. As early as the late 1950s, Linus had made the claim that the Great Pumpkin did in fact exist, even though he himself had no proof that this was the case.

Linus mails the Great Pumpkin letters, takes care of a nearby pumpkin patch, and does everything short of installing a tracking device to monitor the Great Pumpkin just for the chance to meet him. For Linus believes that the Great Pumpkin rewards good boys and girls with enough sweets and candy to give a child cavities for the next twenty years.

Just one problem. Nobody believes him. Charlie Brown cannot believe Linus as he himself has never seen the Great Pumpkin. Lucy, Linus' sister, is more annoyed at Linus' Great Pumpkin theory than anything, and refuses to support Linus in any way. Peppermint Patty tries to convince Linus that the Great Pumpkin is a fake. As for Snoopy, he just laughs hysterically.

Nevertheless, Linus has made it a mission to wait in the pumpkin patch all night long on Halloween to see the pumpkin. This is despite the fact that the Peanuts gang was going to go trick-or-treating, and then head off to a Halloween party at Violet's house. Both activities sounded way more entertaining than sitting around a pumpkin patch waiting for someone who may or may not be real.

Of course, Linus' impulsiveness won out, and to the pumpkin patch he stayed. Of course, Linus wasn't completely alone. In a moment of weakness, Charlie Brown's sister, Sally, decides to sit in the pumpkin patch with Linus while the rest of the Peanuts gang go on with their Halloween fun.

After watching the gang go trick-or-treating, and a little clip involving Snoopy in his Red Baron costume re-enacting a scene from World War II, Snoopy decides to take a walk through the pumpkin patch where Linus and Sally are. When Linus sees a shadowy figure approaching the patch, Linus is immediately excited over the revelation, and he and Sally anxiously await the arrival of the Great Pumpkin.

Unfortunately, when Snoopy revealed himself as the shadowy figure, Sally immediately blew up at Linus with a mixture of anger and disappointment. After all, she gave up trick-or-treating and a Halloween party to sit with Linus all Halloween night for the Great Pumpkin, only to have no Great Pumpkin show up. Sally storms away from Linus and joins the rest of the gang who are finishing up the party, while Linus in all of his stubbornness waits for the Great Pumpkin to arrive.

By four in the morning, Lucy strolls over to the pumpkin patch, and brings Linus home, and when Linus recalls how disappointed he is about having missed the Great Pumpkin again, Charlie Brown remarks that in his lifetime, he'd done some pretty stupid things too. This sets Linus off, shouting at Charlie Brown that the Great Pumpkin would come and visit him next year.

So, what we learned is that Linus has to learn lessons the hard way. But, I guess we can also take into consideration that having a belief is not necessarily a bad thing. Linus believed with all his heart that a Great Pumpkin did exist and would come and visit him. Although this never happened to Linus, at least we can give him credit for attempting to put that theory to the test. But Linus never really did understand that the Great Pumpkin just wasn't real. Before Charles M. Schulz passed away on February 12, 2000, the cartoonist had Linus waiting in the patch for the Great Pumpkin in the comic strip for years. Even in Schulz's final Halloween cartoon in October 1999, he had Linus and Sally (who apparently didn't learn her lesson the first time either) waiting for the Great Pumpkin and thinking it did come when they saw a bright light passing by. Instead, it turned out to be Snoopy driving a Zamboni machine.

Of course, they say that nothing is more precious and innocent than the imagination of a child, and certainly Linus had quite the vivid imagination as a child. It's really hard to fault him for it.

But that was just the main plot of the special. There was so much more to it than that. Here's a few points to ponder.
The iconic 'Charlie Brown tries to kick a football only for Lucy to yank it away at the last moment' scene is featured in this special (well, unless you watch it on ABC, which for some reason decided to edit out the scene).  And you know, I always felt sorry for Charlie Brown. Lucy was just a big bully.  Which is why this spoof of that scene from Family Guy sort of made me chuckle.  Not that I actually advocate kicking girls with the 'Roadhouse' kick, because that would be mean and cruel...but at least this way Charlie Brown kicked the ball...with a little help from Seth MacFarlane.

Speaking of Charlie Brown, remember how he went trick-or-treating with the Peanuts gang in cheese ghost costume? And how all he managed to get on his trick-or-treating excursions was rocks?

First off, is Charlie Brown really that hated in his neighbourhood? What did he do to make his neighbours give him rocks? Did he spray paint graffiti on the street? Push the mailman down an open manhole? Burn down the corner store?

Secondly, was it commonplace for candy stores to sell bags of rocks on the shelves along with the lollipops, gummy bears, and licorice twists? It just seemed a bit odd that Charlie Brown would get rocks from EVERY house. But, then again, the other children got popcorn balls, apples, and other goodies that are now considered 'bad treats' in a modern-day Halloween, so maybe Charlie Brown got off easy.

The point is that Charles M. Schulz had admitted that the scene of Charlie Brown exclaiming that he had gotten a rock for Halloween when everyone else got great things really resonated with the viewing public. For years after the special first aired, dozens of boxes and bags filled with candy and chocolate treats were sent to Schulz with notes attached saying that the goodies were for Charlie Brown! I guess they felt so bad over Charlie Brown getting nothing but rocks for Halloween that they felt a need to do something nice for the kid everyone called 'Blockhead'.

And people say charity and goodwill doesn't exist!

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