Watching It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

It's The Great PumpkinThere are two things I love the most about October.

It’s not carving pumpkins. To be honest, I am lousy at them and even my faces with simple shapes are barely adequate. Soon my children are just going to revolt on me and attempt to do them by themselves.

It’s not the costumes. Yes, they are fun when you are a kid but I always feel creepy by adults wearing them (except when my local city counsel member dressed up as Sarah Palin and went around the neighborhood threatening us with death panels, that was hilarious!).

No, the two things I love are candy corn and It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. And because it doesn’t rot my teeth I love The Great Pumpkin more. Whenever this month rolls along and the leaves change, the show appears on my television and usually is on there until the holiday has passed. Before I was married and had kids, I was known to let it run continuously, just enjoying the ambiance of having it on. And once I had an iPod and an IPhone both immediately had a digital file  of it (so my family doesn’t have to deal with my love of it). I have even been known to have it play while walking the dog, just listening to it like an audiobook.

This may all seem crazy, but everyone has their things, their quirks. This strange little tale of delusional faith, mean children, and a dog that thinks he is a pilot is one of my mine and I don’t see that changing anytime soon… And I’m going to watch it right now with you. Get the candy corn!

0:01, Linus and Luck get a pumpkin

And right from the start we are thrown back in the world thanks to the music of Vince Guaraldi. Most just know this theme generally for Charlie Brown and his gang but it is called “Linus and Lucy” the same two characters on the screen. In many ways, the song captures those characters to a tee. Consider the driving bass line, almost a little angry (Lucy); the optimistic melody over it (Linus). The fact they blend so well together is… well… like they are siblings. It is really their relationship that bookends the story.

On a side note, the voice of Lucy in this special is the voice of Sally from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Listen in a few minutes and you will see what I mean, they just changed the casting. Of course now that you know that, it will always be there in your mind. It is the same voice!

Many times while watching this show I wonder where their parents are (especially now that I am a dad). This is the first example. I mean, just look at that knife Lucy is welding! Even if she was a nicer child I wouldn’t want her near that! And how dark is that opening joke from Linus? He thinks Lucy just committed murder!

And for those unskilled in Peanuts’ lore, they DO have parents. Charlie Brown’s dad is, ironically, a barber; Peppermint Patty’s dad is a single father; and Linus and Lucy once moved away because their dad got a job out of town (but then they moved back)… and their mom gave birth to their younger brother Rerun which angered Lucy.

2:00, Opening credits

I have yet to find this theme on a CD. Seriously, where is the soundtrack to this show? Also, check out the animation in this opening. It is probably some of the most creative (and dark) segments we ever get to see in a Peanuts cartoon, it’s almost surrealism in part with proportions all distorted (look at the size of the cat!).

2:30, Charlie Brown and Snoopy

Thanks Old PalIt’s rare when we see affection between Charlie Brown and Snoopy. In the comic strips, Snoopy never even bothers to think his name (Well, he does kind of know it, but he rarely, rarely uses it). The only other time I can think of a moment like this is during the different specials when Snoopy has gone away… Yet… in the later years of the strip when Charles Schulz would ask his bigger questions around the meaning of life he would show Charlie Brown in bed wondering to himself, and laying at his feet was always Snoopy.

4:20, Linus and his letter

When they create the soundtrack of my life, between Nat King Cole singing “The Christmas Song” and the Beatles performing “Hey Jude,” you would find Vince Guaraldi playing “The Great Pumpkin Waltz.” I love this song and it is probably my favorite of all of his creations for Peanuts… Oh and after that song on my soundtrack? Probably too many Beastie Boys songs and snippets from Stars Wars.

FakeIt is also at this moment we bring up faith. Many say Charles Schulz was Charlie Brown, but I always thought he was Linus, full of contradictions and questions and hope. Consider, Linus can quote from the Bible, but he also needs a security blanket and sucks his thumb. And he believes wholeheartedly in a hero that doesn’t exist and he know doesn’t.  He even later will give himself an “out” so he can keep his beliefs even when they let him down (“Good grief! I said ‘If’!”).

Yes, in Linus you see Schulz’s battle to find meaning. One of my all time favorite quotes on this private struggle comes up in a minute (I quote it all the time to people):

“There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people- religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.”

5:21, Snoopy exits

My children don’t get Charlie Brown and my love of the shows. Oh, they watch them with me, but the children in Peanuts feel cold to them (I mean just look at Lucy’s reaction to Charlie’s invitation in two minutes), and without the background of the comics the dialogue can seem a bit unnatural (definitely true with later specials more obviously cut from the strips, this one is one of the more fluid writing ventures).  But the one thing I can guarantee my son will laugh at each time he watches this special is this moment- when Lucy picks Snoopy up and throws him off screen with a zip noise.

What can I say? It is hilarious.

Parent alert:  Other kids and animals just wander in and out of their house?

6:50, Lucy and the magazine

Look quickly!  Lucy is on the cover of TV Guide! She is reading about herself!

10:00, The neighborhood

One of the things I always find a little distracting is figuring out the neighborhood of where the kids live. I mean, for example, the pumpkin patch Linus waits at is different than the one they got the pumpkin from in the beginning. Also, the houses behind them in any given scene seem to disappear and re-appear. And for most of the show, there seems to be great fields between the houses, until they are trick-or-treating. AND the environment seems to be different each time Lucy or Linus walks out of their house.

Oh… and the kids just go to the pumpkin patch to torment Linus? Nah, Lucy is giving her brother another chance and the other kids are roped along. It’s actually a nice little sibling scene when you stop to think about it. I love how Linus shows how the Great Pumpkin would fly. Look at those arms!

One of the jokes I love about this scene is that Sally runs back out of love for Linus and then a minute later she is threatening to slug him if he tries to hold her name. Genius!

12:10, Trick-or-treating

I’m about to ruin a great running gag. One that has made me laugh for years. I’m sorry, but I have to.

A rockOkay… so there are adults in the houses, they are the ones handing out candy. Candy that they purchased. Well, before the show started, the adults in this neighborhood all got together, collected rocks with the plan of giving them to one particular child.

Think about that for a second. Some wayward 10-year old is being singled out by all of the adults near him. This running gag (while funny when you don’t think about it) is probably the cruelest thing in the show.

You know each year I have teenagers trick-or-treat at my house in lame costumes (sometimes with no costumes) but I would never consider giving them a rock. Maybe I should?

13:22, Snoopy and his sopwith camel

I love how the creators of this show assume kids will know what a sopwith camel is… or even who the Red Baron is… or World War I.  This is also true of the segment later when Schroeder plays popular WWI themes to Snoopy. Yes, we can tell a song is happy or sad, but the historical aspect is a little dated… Well, I guess most history is dated, right?

One of the things I love about this show are the backgrounds. Seriously, the next time you watch it, look at the landscape and the skies in the background. They are beautiful in each exterior shot (especially when Snoopy is down behind “enemy lines”). I would hang any of these on my wall.

16:30, Sally yelling

Next to Linus, Sally is probably my favorite character in the show. This is one of the reasons- I love how she can turn on a dime. Like with her comment about holding hands, she goes from protecting Linus to attacking him in an instant. And then there is her great speech at the end (when she was “robbed!”). A great comic character that never hits this highmark again in the specials.

17:00, Is Charlie Brown bald?

BaldI never thought of Charlie Brown as bald. Like I already said, his dad is a barber and Charlie Brown has the curvy little line above his eyes that seems to represent messy hair. So I have always figured he just is blond with very, very short hair- kind of like you would see kids having back in the 50’s.

Yet, in this segment, with Patty writing on his scalp, he seems to be almost bald. Okay, what is the vote on this? It would be hard to write on hair, no matter how short, right?

Parent Alert:  A big party with kids and animals just wander in? Then are wet and walking around? And kids being mean to each other?

22:30, Where did Charlie Brown come from?

Sally just gives her amazing speech (with a shake) to Linus and then suddenly… There is Charlie Brown in normal clothing! Oh, and did you notice the moon behind Sally during that speech, gorgeous.

Of course, the moon is all over the place in this special—big, small, different colors—and in a minute when Linus is by himself that very same moon is gone.

23:15, Parents…

Okay, I can allow the parents to let their kids do their own pumpkins, let kids and dogs in their houses (for parties or just hanging out), but this is where I have to wonder about calling services. They allow their son to stay up all night on a cold October evening in a pumpkin patch!?! They don’t even go and get him at a reasonable hour? No, that is the sister’s doing.

Yes, it is a nice bookend to Linus and Lucy’s relationship in the show, but parents… Come on!

The end

I’ve seen this special so much that I can recite most of it. If I had to, I could probably give Linus’s entire rant at the end (with the hand flapping as well). Like Linus, I want to believe in something… I just choose It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

I’ll see the Great Pumpkin! Just you wait, Charlie Brown! The Great Pumpkin will appear and I’ll be waiting for him!

I’ll be there too, Linus.

Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, CoverIf you liked reading this post, why not check out one of my books? I’ve had four novels published in the last few years, A Jane Austen DaydreamMaximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous DareMy Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or as an eBook on Google eBooks here.  Thanks for reading!

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15 responses

  1. I have nothing deep or witty to say other than the fact that I enjoyed your commentary through out while “watching” the show with you. It is one of my favorite holiday shows and it was interesting to see someone else’s take on it.
    I did enjoy how you brought to life a show and a season really just by expanding on your feelings about the show. You seemed very genuine.

  2. “I got a rock.” One of the most famous phrases in the Halloween world, and hilarious. I never thought of it the way you put it (the adults plotting against the one misfit). Awful. But still so legendary.

  3. I probably haven’t seen this movie since I was very little, but I know how you feel.
    I was having a discussion with a friend of mine the other day about the movie “Hocus Pocus.” Perhalps this movie is my version of your “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”
    I asked her if this was a movie that could transcend time and get passed down from generation to generation. I was hoping that she would say that millions of people in the world will always love Hocus Pocus and that it’ll be around for our childrens childrens to watch. But alas, she didn’t even give it a thought: “no, this is just something that WE grew up with, and it probably won’t be as awesome to later generations.” So much for putting it in the canon…
    Karen

    • I didn’t know anyone watched Hocus Pocus even then. LOL.

      I’ll be having a book review on Thursday for WKAR on The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury. I think that YA novel is a lost Halloween classic in the making. You should check it out.

      Boo!

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