Tuesday, September 9, 2014

#1,485. It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)

Directed By: Bill Melendez

Starring: Peter Robbins, Christopher Shea, Sally Dryer

Tag line: "Peanuts, pumpkins, and pleasure for the whole family!"

Trivia: When the show ran briefly on NBC, the scene of Snoopy and Schroeder was cut out

After the runaway success of 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, TV execs started clamoring for another half-hour show featuring cartoonist Charles M. Schultz’s precocious Peanuts gang. So, director Bill Melendez got together with Schultz to hammer out the details of yet another special, and less than a year later, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown hit the airwaves.

Halloween has arrived, a holiday most kids associate with dressing up in a costume and going trick-or-treating for candy. But for Linus van Pelt (voiced by Chris Shea), it’s another chance to meet the Great Pumpkin, who, according to legend, visits one pumpkin patch each and every Halloween, delivering toys to all the good boys and girls. Joined by Sally (Kathy Steinberg), the sister of Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins), Linus spends the evening perched in a nearby pumpkin patch, fully convinced his idol will indeed make an appearance there. Meanwhile, the rest of the gang, including Charlie Brown, Lucy (Sally Dryer), Pigpen (Gail DeFaria), and the others throw on their costumes and go door-to-door, gathering up gobs of candy in the process (all except poor Charlie Brown, whose bag is filled with nothing but rocks). As the night drags on, Sally regrets her decision to skip Halloween in favor of waiting for a giant pumpkin to arrive, yet Linus remains confident the Great Pumpkin will reward his patience and turn up, thus proving to the entire world that he does exist.

With its vibrant backgrounds and detailed animation, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown looks much better than A Charlie Brown Christmas (though, to be fair, Melendez and crew were given only a few weeks to throw together the Christmas special, and had more time to produce Great Pumpkin). What’s more, Great Pumpkin features a number of different storylines; along with Linus’ preoccupation with the Great Pumpkin and Charlie Brown’s failed attempt to get some candy, we spend time with Snoopy, who, dressed as a World War I flying ace, engages in an aerial dogfight with his arch-nemesis, The Red Baron. There’s even a brief sequence in which Schroder (Glenn Mendelson), sitting at his piano, plays a selection of WWI-era tunes, reducing Snoopy to tears (this segment would be edited out of several broadcast versions), and who can forget Charlie Brown trying to kick that football, and ending up flat on his back when Lucy yanks it away at the last minute?

The Peanuts crew would, over the years, tackle a number of other holidays, including Thanksgiving (1973’s A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving), Easter (It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown), Valentine’s Day (Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown), and even Arbor Day (1976’s It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown), yet none would match the popularity of their Christmas and Halloween outings, which, despite being almost 50 years old, are still very entertaining. Like A Charlie Brown Christmas, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown has become a holiday tradition.

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