It's Christmas time in the Peanuts neighbourhood and all the kids are getting into what they think is the spirit of the season. All that is, except poor Charlie Brown, who finds himself unsure of how to feel about the impending holiday. After consulting Lucy's “psychiatric help,” she suggest that Charlie Brown act as the director for the class Christmas play. He accepts, hoping the involvement will help him find the holiday cheer he has been missing. Can Charlie Brown keep all the other kids in line and finally understand what the Christmas spirit really is?
A Charlie Brown Christmas is a animated holiday special based on the Peanuts comic written by Charles Shultz. The idea for the special was originally given to both Shultz and his to be producer, Lee Mendleson, by way of the Coca-Cola Company. Shultz and Mendleson had originally approached the company hoping to get financial backing to produce a documentary film based on the Peanuts comic. Coca-Cola agreed on the condition that Shultz and Mendleson make a Peanuts themed Christmas special first. Shutlz and Mendleson went through with the deal, and after six months of production the special was aired on CBS on December 9, 1965.
Charles Shultz wrote the script while Bill Mendenz acted as lead animator and director of the special. Coca Cola gave them a budget of just seventy six thousand dollars to complete the special. Though by the end of production they were twenty thousand dollars over budget. With the cast composed entirely of child actors and a strange mix of jazzy Christmas themed music (composed by Vince Guaraldi), A Charlie Brown Christmas was already setting itself up to be a unique special. The film was completed just 10 days before its scheduled air date. Both Mendleson and the CBS network executives feared that the short would be a disaster. However, much to their surprise, the general audience loved it. To the point that the special received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Children's Program a year later.
Having grown up watching this special with my family, I never really understood the wide appeal it had. I liked it, and Christmas would never be the same if I didn't watch it at least once, but I never really understood why everyone else loved it so much. The animation really isn't that great when you compare it to other animated Christmas specials, and it wasn't the funniest piece to ever come from Charles Shultz genius comic writing.
However, after re-watching it with more of a open mind and finding out more about its history, I think I finally get what makes A Charlie Brown Christmas so great. It isn't just because of the theme of finding the true meaning of Christmas or the daring it took to include a recitation of the Bible, but of how those elements gave a simple yet heartfelt take on the Christmas season that really isn't touched upon all that often.
It is here, I realised, what makes A Charlie Brown Christmas so endearing. So many Christmas specials talk about how the act of giving gifts trumps receiving them and how Christmas is a time to cherish all that you have in your life. However, A Charlie Brown Christmas manages to give a simple but very powerful representation of the Christmas spirit. The simple act of being inspired by a story of kindness and using that inspiration as a force of goodwill.
We never see what happens with the Christmas pageant at the end of the short, and honestly we don't need to. Charlie Brown found the answer he was looking for. He even took it a step further by going through with his original idea of decorating the tiny tree, even after the other kids berated him for it. In fact, the other kids follow him home and are inspired by his new found determination. So when he falters, they step in to help and make it a Christmas that Charlie Brown certainly won't forget.
Though it may have its flaws, A Charlie Brown Christmas holds a special place in the hearts of many, and with good reason. It may not be as complex of a tale as other famous Christmas stories but it managed to show different aspects of the holiday that don't normally get the spot light. The charm of the Peanuts cast will entertain kids while the adults can enjoy the quieter moments and the message. Much like Charlie Brown's little Christmas tree, there is a simple beauty in this special if your willing to look for it.
A Charlie Brown Christmas is available on DVD, and a special edition DVD for it's 50th Anniversary. It is also included as a part of the Peanuts Holiday Collection.