"You must get discouraged because more people believe in Santa Claus than in you. Well, let's face it. Santa Claus has had more publicity; but being number two, perhaps you try harder."
—Linus writing to the Great Pumpkin
Hello, one and all.
This is at least one non-horror movie entry that is always a perennial favorite of mine all throughout October. Charles M. Schulz's beloved Peanuts comic strip and all its characters—Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy, Peppermint Patty, Marcie, Pig-Pen, Schroeder, Frieda, Patty, and the rest of the gang—have always been my companions since the age of six when I bought my first book collection of Peanuts comics. Somehow, I found it easy to identify with Charlie Brown, an eager and sincere kid who was just a natural-born loser and could never seem to catch a break. Yep—that was me!
So, as a kid, I easily devoured all the Charlie Brown TV specials broadcast on CBS over the years (now, I believe ABC owns the publishing rights), and have always had a soft spot for this one: their Halloween special. Charles Schulz's creations weren't just mere kids who just spouted zingers and one-liners for the sake of an easy laugh. The Peanuts was a platform for Schulz to explore topics as diverse as politics, religion, socialization, prejudice, belief and yes, even philosophy.
Yes, A Charlie Brown Christmas pandered to the many people who embraced the Christian faith and its correlation to Christmas. It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, did the exact opposite; it showed that while faith was indeed an admirable trait, it may not be the one thing that makes anything happen. Linus Van Pelt (voiced by Christopher Shea) is a genuine believer. This is evident when the story begins as his sister, Lucy Van Pelt (voiced by Sally Dryer) goes into their pumpkin patch and pulls out a huge pumpkin to carve. Of course, Lucy, always making sure Linus knows who wears the pants in the household. He drags the pumpkin inside and Lucy sets up the newspaper on the floor. She begins carving a jack o' lantern, but winds up traumatizing poor Linus as he believes that she's killing a living thing.
"Oooh, you didn't tell me you were gonna kill it!" he whines, before breaking down and sobbing. As the story continues, we see Linus writing a letter to the Great Pumpkin, a deified spirit that Linus believes in who has practically the same exact traits as Santa Claus; he comes around on Halloween night to anyone who sits in a pumpkin patch and dispatches gifts to the good children of the world. Lucy is understandably upset that her brother is entertaining a false myth and warns him to get a clue, and fast! Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins) himself worries that Linus's belief may be harmful to his impressionable younger sister, Sally (Kathy Steinberg), who has a massive crush on him.
None of this deters Linus, who vows to do his yearly ritual of waiting in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin. The rest of the gang are all going trick-or-treating and then to Patty's house for an after-party. This includes Charlie Brown, who miraculously gets a mercy invite. Linus believes that his beliefs are not false and that the Great Pumpkin is absolutely not a hoax. He manages to briefly convince Sally to stay with him. Sally, already in love with her "Sweet Baboo," willingly stays with him. She's at first excited, but then her excitement soon wanes and turns into impatience.
The trick-or-treating, lead by Lucy, with Lucy wearing a witch's costume (apparently a disguise in direct contrast to her personality—yeah, right!) is one of the show's biggest highlights. Everyone gets candy and all sorts of goodies; only Charlie Brown gets nothing but rocks in his candy bag. It doesn't help that Charlie Brown's ghost costume is just littered with holes and makes him look utterly ridiculous. On the other hand, Snoopy is wearing his costume: a WWI flying ace who gets on his Sopwith Camel to do battle with the evil Red Baron. Only Snoopy can get away with such a costume with ease and not look like a fool.
The party doesn't go well for either Charlie Brown or Lucy as both are made to look foolish beyond repair. Linus and Sally are now awaiting the Great Pumpkin, with Sally now ready to pounce on Linus for waiting countless hours on a no-show. Then...a figure rises out of the patch. Linus is ecstatic! So much so that he faints (loudly). Sally, on the other hand, recognizes the spirit as having familiar canine properties and has a few scathing choice words for her "Baboo."
One of the many charms of It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is that it's funny, yet pointed. It seems that it has a message to convey about human gullibility and the futility of belief. On the other hand, it also seems to say that one is indeed entitled to their personal faith and beliefs, and that whatever it is, no one has the right to judge them or humiliate them. Perhaps it's about karma; if we ridicule other people of faith, we may end up experiencing bad karma in our lives. Perhaps...the futility of organized religion?
Okay, I'm getting ahead of myself here. It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is still a perennial Halloween favorite of mine and will continue to be so for years to come. Animated stories can still entertain us even in adulthood, and they can still teach us about life...and the value of standing your ground, even through ridicule.
Next up: Another sequel...that's missing its star!