Tuesday, November 28, 2006
A Charlie Brown Christmas
I read on Wonkette that ABC was airing A Charlie Brown Christmas tonight at 8 p.m. and got all excited about it. I hadn't seen it in years. It seemed just right for the sleepy, exhausted, sniffly mood I'm in right now. I'm in one of those moods where you put your head down a lot. I've got this cold that's slowly growing in intensity, I'm constantly exhausted, I wonder about old friends from elementary school, I wear winter hats indoors.
My brother and I used to get very excited for Charlie Brown specials, and got all fired up when they ran that spinning rainbow-colored "SPECIAL" graphic before the show. The specials were a break from the standard pattern of things, a cousin of the news flash interrupting regularly scheduled programming. When the special aired, it made the holiday more real somehow, if that makes any sense. Halloween became all the more real when the Great Pumpkin special aired, etc.
Anyhow, I had forgotten that in the middle of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, Linus gives a long and solemn speech, intended to remind Charlie Brown of the "real meaning of Christmas," where he talks about the Lord sending down "a Savior, Christ the Lord" to the "City of David," bringing peace and goodwill to all men.
After Linus's speech, Charlie Brown walks home under the very big stars over the very flat anonymous Peanuts town carrying his sickly, pathetic Christmas tree, hearing Linus's words echo in his heads. He realizes, out loud, of course, with the stars twinkling brightly and significantly overhead, that Linus is right, and Christmas is about so much more than the vulgar commercialism that has gripped Snoopy, who is trying to win a big cash prize in a neighborhood Christmas light and decoration contest, Sally, who dictates a letter to Charlie Brown for Santa, where she says that she "only wants what's coming to" her, and suggests that, to make it easier, Santa could send her money, "preferably tens and twenties", whereupon Charlie Brown goes "AUGHH" and throws up his hands, and Lucy, who, in one of the weirder scenes in the special, goes into a reverie after Charlie Brown deposits a nickel in the can at her psychiatrist's booth, shaking the can and raving about how she loves the "tinkle of cold hard cash".
Strangely, Charlie Brown's feeble and measly Christmas tree is "rescued" at the very end of the special when the Peanuts gang takes the lights and decorations from Snoopy's doghouse and spruces up the tree, making it look like a conventionally -- and commercially -- beautiful Christmas tree, somewhat undercutting the major theme of the special. (Linus is deployed to explain the transformation: "All the tree needs is a little love.") After this, Charlie Brown and the gang gather around the rescued now conventionally pretty tree and sing a song to it.
The voices of the character were comforting, as always -- even the unsettling and weird timing of the dialogue, with odd pauses in between, was comforting. The repetitive, cycled animation, sometimes in silence, was also unsettling, but similarly comforting. (Why, you may ask, am I in need of so much goddamned comfort?) There was a newer Charlie Brown Christmas Special that came on immediately afterwards. This one looked as if it were made in the 80's or 90's: the colors were more vivid and stable, the lines were cleaner, the backgrounds were brighter, and, most disturbingly, the voices were different, and the weird pauses between dialogue were gone. I couldn't watch it for more than five minutes.
I need to apologize to a friend. This post is mostly cribbed -- from memory -- from a letter I just wrote him, which sort of depersonalizes the letter in some way, I fear. Sorry, Tom.
UPDATE:Apparently, about 13 million viewers tuned in to watch this 41st telecast of a Charlie Brown Christmas. It seems many of us are in need of the comfort of an old, boring, but dependable classic cartoon. It makes sense, with the world spiralling beyond comprehension into a frightening future: many of us want to put on pajamas and watch a story about a sickly Christmas tree.
Sometime I'll have to do a review of Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown and how scary a movie that was.