Among the most revered of Christmas flicks, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” might be the star at the top of the hierarchical tree. It’s funny, touching, and features a jazzy Vince Guaraldi soundtrack. Appealing to both kids and adults is a difficult feat, but the beloved Charles M. Schulz production manages to reach out to all demographics. What’s more, it remains relevant, testament to the masterful narrative and art work.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” finds familiar protagonist Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins) in his usual seasonal funk. This time, he’s grappling with the commercialization of Christmas. His mood doesn’t improve when he discovers loyal dog Snoopy (Bill Melendez) decorating his doghouse for a contest. Lucy (Tracy Stratford) believes that Charlie requires more involvement in the festivities, and appoints him director of the neighborhood Christmas play.
Unfortunately, the play doesn’t go as planned. Rehearsals are a disaster, with impromptu dance numbers, Lucy’s insistence that she’s the Christmas Queen, and the general pandemonium. Charlie Brown ventures out to procure a tree, which Lucy asserts must be a large, shiny, aluminum tree. However, Charlie Brown and pal Linus (Christopher Shea) pick out a small twig of a tree, and the only real tree available. Upon returning to the rehearsal, the cast of the play proceed to make fun of Charlie Brown for his decision, at which point he wonders aloud what Christmas is all about.
The theme of Christmas commercialization isn’t unique to “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” nor is this Peanuts special the first animated kids flick to employ the motif. Notably, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” marveled at Christmas arriving without boxes, packages, and traditional present adornments. In the Peanuts iteration, this is manifested by lights and decoration contests, a focus on money, and material objects. According to Charlie Brown, the season seems devoid of Christmas spirit.
There’s a running gag also found in “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown,” involving Charlie Brown and cards from Violet (Sally Dryer). In “The Great Pumpkin,” Violet accidentally invites Charlie to her Halloween party. During “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Charlie sarcastically thanks Violet for her Christmas card, although none was sent. Moments like this lend a hilarious maturity which adults will cherish. Arguably the greatest scenes are those where Lucy plays a psychiatrist, and her diagnoses are riotously funny.
What truly establishes “A Charlie Brown Christmas” as a resident in the canon of seasonal classics is the touching theme of Christmas surpassing presents and glamor. The humble tree with a single bauble has evolved into a recognizable symbol of the true holiday spirit. Kids adore the colorful animation and toe-tapping soundtrack, and adults will appreciate the clever humor, sentimental worldview, and touching moments. It’s really a film that speaks to all ages, and the adorable cartoon mimics the lowly tree in its powerful simplicity.