Jacob's Favorite Christmas Films: #8. "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1965)
It's amazing how we take certain pieces of pop culture for granted.
I don't think there are many modern viewers of A Charlie Brown Christmas that would ever associate the word "controversial" with the project, especially when it ended up as a rough template for various other Peanuts based cartoons over the next several decades. But believe it or not, executives hated the project and felt it was doomed to fail. It's dark and dry sense of humor along with a lack of a laugh track, combined with low budget animation and a cast of actual children to voice the characters was considered nothing short of suicidal in business terms.
Unlike yesterday's entry, which goes all in on the Santa Claus legend and the idea of a commercial Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas feels like the absolute antithesis, taking an entire aside about the Christian roots of the holiday. It even takes most of its time to call out the commercial rituals around Christmas, something that feels weird to see in a kids special today. Its a strangely raw piece of work that feels personal in a way that few projects of this type ever do. That's why it's a classic, that's why it's been broadcast on TV for over fifty years.
This will be the shortest review of the ten entries, not because there's nothing to say about A Charlie Brown Christmas, but that its raw simplicity doesn't leave a lot to the imagination. Its a perfect version of what it wanted to be, a pure and straight adaptation of its source material. There's only one flourish, one aspect more that I want to talk about that feels even more remarkable than its handling of its subject:
Its music, composed by Vince Guaraldi.
The canon of Christmas music is odd, mostly consisting of songs from the late 1800s into the early 1900s, so it's pretty incredible that a jazz pianist out of New York's compositions for a Peanuts cartoon are among that canon. The track "Linus and Lucy" is instantly recognizable, even to people who haven't seen A Charlie Brown Christmas. It's gorgeous work, and some of the best Christmas music ever. At least in my opinion.
A Charlie Brown Christmas was a revolutionary cartoon, but it's still a great piece of sentimental entertainment.