Directed By: Bill Melendez
Starring: Peter Robbins, Chris Shea, Tracy Stratford
Tag line: "That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown!"
Trivia: A version with a laugh track was produced but later discarded after the success of the broadcast version
Seeing as I’m on a roll with these Holiday films, I figured it was as good a time as any to look at another beloved Christmas classic, 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, which, after Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, is the 2nd-longest-running television special of its kind.
Charlie Brown (voiced by Peter Robbins) is having a hard time getting into the spirit of the Christmas season. In an attempt to break out of his funk, he agrees to serve as the director of the annual Holiday pageant, and one of his key responsibilities is to select the Christmas tree that will adorn the stage during the production. Refusing to buy an aluminum tree (which are all the rage), he instead chooses a real one, and is immediately mocked by the others for doing so. But as Linus (Chris Shea) will remind everyone, there’s more to Christmas than pageants and trees.
Produced in a matter of weeks on a very small budget, A Charlie Brown Christmas was poorly received by network executives, who objected to, among other things, the show’s religious theme and the fact its makers opted not to include a laugh track. What’s more, the animation is uneven at best (there are times when colors change in mid-scene), and the use of actual children, as opposed to professional actors posing as kids, resulted in some less-than-stellar line deliveries (Kathy Steinberg, who provided the voice for Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally, was so young that she couldn’t even read, and had to be fed her dialogue one word at a time during the recording session). With so many issues, both Coca-Cola (who sponsored the show) and CBS (the network that signed on to broadcast it) were sure they had a flop on their hands.
So, why is A Charlie Brown Christmas still considered one of the finest Holiday specials ever made? Well, for starters, the music is outstanding; along with Vince Guaraldi’s piano score, the producers brought in the children’s choir of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in San Raphael, California, to provide the vocals for “Christmas Time is Here” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”. What’s more, the use of real kids instead of voice actors gives it a feeling of authenticity, and, regardless of your religious beliefs, there’s no denying that Linus’ Gospel recital towards the end is the single most poignant scene in the entire show.
A Charlie Brown Christmas is yet another staple from my childhood; I was so enamored with it that, in the days before we had a VCR, I recorded the show’s audio onto cassette tape just so I could play it back throughout the year. In spite of its technical deficiencies (or perhaps because of them), A Charlie Brown Christmas is, and will likely always remain, a true Holiday classic.