Airdate: October 27, 1966
So… today was a crazy day. I don’t know how much enthusiasm I’ll have for writing about a 50-year-old children’s Halloween special, but we’ll see. If anything, watching It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was a pretty relaxing trip back to childhood to provide a little bit of comfort after a day that felt a bit surreal.
I say that the Peanuts transports me back to childhood not only because it’s about the comical melancholy of being a kid, but also because I have a few various memories of Peanuts from my own childhood. First, of reruns of the cartoon being aired occasionally (possibly on Nickelodeon?) as well as their presence in the comics section of the newspaper (remember those?) and experiencing the Camp Snoopy theme park at the Mall of America during my summers in Minnesota. In recent years, the Peanuts property I’ve returned to the most is the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas (as well as that special), though I do have a vague memory of watching It’s The Great Pumpkin on TV as a kid. Upon revisiting it, I was glad to see it has about the same high level of charm as everything else in the Peanuts universe.
Unlike the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, which basically just focuses on the bald boy wonder, It’s The Great Pumpkin focuses on a wider array of the Peanuts Gang. In fact, the main storyline revolves around Linus, who is seen early on writing a letter to the Great Pumpkin, who he seems to see as basically the Santa Claus of Halloween. Linus is anxiously awaiting The Great Pumpkin’s arrival on Halloween Night, while all of his friends thinks he’s crazy, except for Charlie Brown’s sister Sally. There is something about these kids’ cynicism towards a lesser-known Holiday mascot (despite believing in Santa Claus) that’s a little hard to comprehend, but makes a lot of sense when factoring in kid logic.
The other two storylines involve the Peanuts characters who are engaged in more traditional Halloween festivities. Lucy, Charlie Brown, and a few other kids (including everybody’s favorite ‘lil dirtclod, Pigpen) go trick-or-treating around their neighborhood in the hopes of scoring some candy. Charlie Brown, of course, has the least enjoyable time due to his ghost costume featuring way too many holes in it and the recurring gag that everybody keeps giving him rocks instead of candy. Then there’s the iconic canine stinker, Snoopy, who has gotten a little carried away with his Halloween costume, dressing up as a WWI pilot and treating his dog house as a fighter plane. While going on a journey through an imaginary war-ravaged France, Snoopy eventually cross paths with Linus in his nightlong stakeout for The Great Pumpkin.
It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was the third of CBS’s seasonal Charlie Brown Specials (preceded by A Charlie Brown Christmas as well as the baseball-themed Charlie Brown All-Stars) and you can feel creators Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson (as well as writer Charles Shultz) building a bit more of a confidence in bringing these characters to animated television. There’s something about the ramshackle nature of A Charlie Brown Christmas that’s almost a bit miraculous that it’s as great as it is even if the animation and the voice acting isn’t exactly perfect. So it’s nice to see that the animation is a little better here, while the rhythms of these characters as we know and love them are a little more fully realized.
Apart from all the Halloween festivities, we also get to see Lucy pull one of her signature football fake-outs, because it wouldn’t be Fall without football shenanigans. It’s also weird that this is the second Halloween special in a row to feature bobbing for apples (because I’ve never done it myself), but I guess that’s just what you did on Halloween in the ’60s. Anyways, there’s a lot of nice little moments in this special due to its loose, episodic nature, which feels about right for something based off of a three-panel comic strip (as well as childhood in general). Also, of course, these moments are strung together by the smooth sounds of Vince Guaraldi and the wistfully un-spooky “The Great Pumpkin Waltz”. Might I recommend putting that on to take the edge off an exhausting last couple of weeks?