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Dana Stevens on the Melancholy Beauty of the Charlie Brown Specials

posted by Nell Minow

Slate’s Dana Stevens has a lovely essay on “Why I love the melancholy Peanuts holiday specials,” in honor of a new holiday collection dvd set.

Those specials–at least the big three: the Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas shows that were recently released in a “deluxe holiday collection” by Warner Bros.–have a mood unlike any animated film for children made before or since. For one thing, they’re really, really slow–slow not just by our ADD-addled contemporary standards but also next to the programming of their own time. Just compare the meandering pace of A Charlie Brown Christmas
(in which Charlie tries, and fails, to direct a single rehearsal of a Christmas play) with the generation-spanning epic crammed into Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
(1964). But what really sets the Peanuts specials apart is their sadness. Even digitally remastered, with the background colors restored to their original vivid crispness, the Peanuts holiday specials have a faded quality, like artifacts from a lost civilization. As Linus observes of the wan, drooping pine sprig Charlie Brown eventually rescues from a huge lot of pink aluminum Christmas trees, “This doesn’t seem to fit the modern spirit.”

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My favorite is this beautiful scene with the children skating to the bittersweet music of Vince Guaraldi.

Stevens talks about the insights from the extras on the new DVD set, which reveal that it was Schultz who insisted that there be no laugh track and that real children provide the voices. But the highlight of the piece is her lyrical descriptions of what made those early specials so, well, special.

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Here I could write an epic poem detailing the multiple felicities of the Peanuts specials: the van Gogh-esque night sky that dwarfs Linus and Sally as they wait in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin, Linus’ stirring reading from the Gospel of Luke at the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas, the impossibly hip “Little Birdie” song that plays in the background as Snoopy and Woodstock prep for their Thanksgiving feast.

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