Who doesn’t love a good animated holiday special? Surely the most beloved cartoon holiday special of all time is “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, with “A Garfield Christmas” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” running up a close second and third (not necessarily in that order).
But today marks the 50th anniversary of the Peanuts Halloween special, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”.
The cartoon premiered at CBS on Thursday, October 27, 1966, and has since become an annual holiday tradition for many people, both young and old. Whether you saw it the night it first aired, or if you’re a second/third generation fan, no one is immune to the magic of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts gang.
“It’s the Great Pumpkin” was the third Charlie Brown television special, riding high on the success of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965) and “Charlie Brown’s All-Stars” (June 1966). It’s a very simple story with not a lot going on, but under the watchful eye of producer/animator Bill Melendez, Schulz’s iconic characters create a down to earth imaginary world that’s extremely easy to get caught up in.
It’s 25 minutes of little kids doing what little kids do — getting ready for Halloween. Charlie Brown, Lucy and the others are eagerly anticipating a night of trick-or-treating, while Linus is busy preparing for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin.
As Linus explains to Charlie Brown and Sally: “This is the time of year to write to the Great Pumpkin. On Halloween night, the Great Pumpkin rises out of his pumpkin patch and flies through the air with his bag of toys for all the children.”
This bit of nonsense does nothing to endear him to the other children (or to me, tbh), but I suppose one could argue that his undying devotion and steadfast determination is at least somewhat admirable.
Meanwhile, Snoopy is off on his own adventure as the trademark World War I flying ace, who at the moment is making his way across the French countryside after losing an imaginary battle with his nemesis, the Red Baron. Let’s just be honest here: Snoopy is a legendary character that people will love forever. He’s fun and quirky, but highly intelligent too, and that really makes him a likable little guy.
For me, my favourite moment is what surely must be a nod (conscious or unconscious) to Twilight Zone’s “The Masks“.
Lucy, arguably the only truly UN-likable Peanut’s character, has chosen a witch for her Halloween costume. It’s not enough that her mask looks just like Emily’s mask in the TZ episode. Oh, no. Listen to the explanation of her costume choice:
Lucy: “A person should always choose a costume which is in direct contrast to her own personality.”
Jason Foster [while selecting masks for his relatives]: “One tries to select a mask that is the antithesis of what the wearer is.”
Sorry, but that would be one heck of a coincidence, no? The look of the mask AND what she says?? “The Masks” aired March 20, 1964 — two whole years before Melendez and Schulz penned and directed “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”. Intentional or not, *I* like the idea of a silent tongue-in-cheek nod to the great Rod Serling, and like Linus with the Great Pumpkin, I choose to believe it was.
Another thing that endears this holiday tale to me is the story that children across America were so upset at poor Charlie Brown getting nothing but rocks in his treat bag, that they sent actual candy in to the studio for him.
And this perhaps is the best illustration of why these old holiday classics are still so near and dear to our hearts, even 50 years later. They have that magic about them that makes the viewer care: Care about the characters, care about what happens to them. What could be nicer than a story written for entertainment, which had the unintended consequence of making real children across the nation care so much about a stranger that they were willing to share their own goodies with him? That’s not nothing. That’s something really and truly special, and it’s terribly disheartening that we don’t see that kind of thing today. When was the last time we had a good, decent holiday special for kids? Heck, when was the last time we saw a good, decent show for children??
This was cute — when Linus finishes writing his letter to the Great Pumpkin, he comes upon Lucy who is reading a TV Guide that she is on the cover of!
Back to the story, all the kids enjoy an after-trick-or-treating Halloween party at Violet’s house where Lucy has a conniption after accidentally “kissing” Snoopy while bobbing for apples.
Meanwhile, poor Linus and Sally are still sitting in the pumpkin patch, waiting for the Great Pumpkin to bring them presents. At first, Sally is ecstatic to be spending time with Linus, but eventually the novelty begins wearing off. There is a great moment when Snoopy sneaks into the pumpkin patch and Linus, mistaking him for the Great Pumpkin, faints in the excitement.
Of course there is no Great Pumpkin, he never shows up, despite Linus freezing alone in the pumpkin patch until 4 in the morning when his big sister finally goes outside to collect him. But despite the no-showing pumpkin, Linus still believes, and the end credits roll over Linus screaming at Charlie Brown about next year.
Linus: “Stupid? What do you mean “stupid”?! Just wait till next year, Charlie Brown, you’ll see! Next year at this same time, I’ll find a pumpkin patch that’s REAL sincere! And I’ll sit in that pumpkin patch until the Great Pumpkin appears!”
ABC acquired the rights to “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” in 2001, and has been airing it annually ever since. If you’re in a kiddish Halloween mood and missed the first showing on October 19, not to worry — you can catch it again on October 28 at 8:00 PM. Or you watch it anytime right here on YouTube.
“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” is a fun, colourful delight for children and adults alike. Its appeal is timeless, and to anyone wanting to recapture the comfort and familiarity of pure, unadulterated, childhood nostalgia, go ahead and take a trip down memory lane with Snoopy and the gang. Just be sure to wave hello to Linus in the pumpkin patch.
Happy 50th Birthday! ♥