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A Charlie Brown Christmas is the first of 45 animated television specials based on the comic strip Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz, it originally aired on CBS on December 9, 1965. In the program, Charlie Brown questions the meaning of Christmas, if it has lost its true meaning from how commercial it is.

All of the Peanuts characters that had been introduced and established as permanent in the strip by 1965 feature in the program. "Pig-Pen", Frieda , and even Shermy feature in minor roles; 5 and his sisters 3 and 4 appear in non-speaking roles, performing memorable dances. Charlotte Braun had been dropped a decade earlier, and Roy had only made one guest appearance at camp that year.

Plot

Most of the Peanuts characters are skating on a frozen pond as the song "Christmas Time Is Here" plays. On his way to join them, Charlie Brown confides in Linus that even though the holidays are approaching he is starting to feel depressed despite all the presents and cards and tree decorating. His depression and aggravation only get exacerbated by the goings-on in the neighborhood. Though his mailbox is empty of Christmas cards, he tries sarcastically to thank Violet for the card she sent him, though Violet knows she did no such thing. Charlie Brown shouts after Violet as she walks away: "Don't you know sarcasm when you hear it?"

Charlie Brown at Lucy's psychiatry booth.

Ultimately, Charlie Brown visits Lucy in her psychiatric booth. On her advice, he gets involved in directing a Christmas nativity play. She also sympathizes with Charlie Brown about holiday depression, always getting a lot of stupid toys instead of what she wants: real estate. On the way to the theatre, Charlie Brown is drawn to Snoopy, who is frantically and gleefully busy decorating his doghouse. When Charlie Brown demands an explanation, Snoopy hands him a flyer about the neighborhood Christmas lights and display contest. Charlie Brown walks away in frustration at his dog having been bitten by the Christmas commercialization bug. He then gets accosted by Sally, who wants Charlie Brown to dictate a letter to Santa. Sally ultimately asks Santa to just send money, particularly tens and twenties, causing Charlie Brown to run away in exasperation at even his sister's secularization.

The famous dance.

Charlie Brown arrives at the rehearsals, but try as he might, he cannot seem to get control of the situation. The uncooperative children are more interested in modernizing the play with dancing and lively music. Charlie Brown, on the other hand, is determined to not let the play become secularized, by focusing on the traditional side of the story.

Thinking the play requires the proper mood, Charlie Brown decides they need a Christmas tree. So Lucy takes over the crowd and dispatches Charlie Brown to get a big shiny aluminum tree... maybe painted pink. With Linus in tow, Charlie Brown sets off on his quest. But when they get to the tree market, Charlie Brown zeroes in on a small baby tree which, with symbolic irony, is the only real tree on the lot. Linus is reluctant about Charlie Brown's choice, but Charlie Brown is convinced that with decoration it will be just right for the play.

Shermy makes a rare television appearance in the special complaining that he plays a shepherd every year.

They return to the auditorium with the tree, only to be verbally castigated by everyone, especially Lucy, about the puny tree. Second-guessing himself, Charlie Brown begins to wonder if he knows what Christmas is about, loudly asking in despair. Linus quietly says he can tell him and walks to the center of the stage to make his point. Under a spotlight, Linus quotes the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke, verses 8 through 14 from the King James Bible, in which angels from heaven tell a group of initially frightened shepherds of the birth of the baby Jesus, and instruct them as to where they can find the babe.

Charlie Brown now realizes he does not have to let commercialism ruin his Christmas. With a newly-found sense of inspiration, he quietly picks up the little tree and walks out of the auditorium, intending to take the tree home to decorate and show the others it will work in the play.

"I've killed it."

On the way, he stops at Snoopy's decorated doghouse, which now sports a first prize blue ribbon for winning the display contest. Letting his dog's commercialism roll off his back, Charlie Brown takes an ornament off the doghouse and hangs it on his tree, but the ornament's weight is too much for the small branch, and pulls it to the ground, much to Charlie Brown's shock.

Charlie Brown, seeing the ornamented branch droop to the ground, says, "I've killed it. Oh! Everything I touch gets ruined!" and walks away without taking the ornament off, his head hanging in shame. Unbeknownst to Charlie Brown, the rest of the gang, having also heard Linus' recitative began to realize they were a little too rough on Charlie Brown and quietly followed him from the auditorium. Linus goes up to the little tree and gently props the drooping branch back to its upright position, ornament and all. Linus says, "I never thought it was such a bad little tree", then wraps his blanket around the base of the trunk and adds, "It's not bad at all. Maybe it just needs a little love." The rest of the children grab the other decorations off of Snoopy's doghouse and add them to the tree.

The tree is trimmed.

When they have finished, even Lucy concedes to Charlie Brown's choice, saying, "Charlie Brown is a blockhead, but he did get a nice tree." The children then start humming the traditional Christmas carol, "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." When Charlie Brown returns, he demands to know what is taking place. When he sees what they have done with the tree, he cannot believe his eyes, and all the children shout, "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!" At this point, the children, joined by Charlie Brown, begin singing the carol in earnest as the end credits roll and the snow begins to fall.

Voice cast (uncredited)

A 1996 VHS cover for the special clamshell version from Paramount.

5, 3, and 4 appear in the special but do not have speaking roles.

Members of the choir of St. Paul's Episcopal Church (San Rafael, California) provided vocals for the songs "Christmas Time Is Here" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing". They can be heard when all the children shout "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!" at the end of the special.

The original special did not show any voice credits, but the first three-voice credits have been added to contemporary broadcasts.

Soundtrack

Original 1965 airing

  1. "Christmas Time Is Here" (vocal)
  2. "Christmas Time Is Here" (instrumental)
  3. "Skating" A
  4. "Christmas Time Is Here" (instrumental)
  5. "Christmas Time Is Here" (instrumental)
  6. "Christmas Is Coming" B [alternate take 6]
  7. "Linus and Lucy" A
  8. "Linus and Lucy" A
  9. "Linus and Lucy" A
  10. "Linus and Lucy" A
  11. "Oh, Tannenbaum" (traditional, arranged by Guaraldi) A
  12. "Fur Elise" (Beethoven) A
  13. "Linus and Lucy" A
  14. "Fur Elise" (Beethoven) A
  15. "Jingle Bells" (traditional, arranged by Guaraldi; three arrangements)
  16. "Christmas Time Is Here" (instrumental)
  17. "Oh, Tannenbaum" (traditional, arranged by Guaraldi)
  18. "Oh, Tannenbaum" (traditional, arranged by Guaraldi)
  19. "Oh, Tannenbaum" (traditional, arranged by Guaraldi) A
  20. "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" (vocal, traditional, arranged by Guaraldi) A

Restored 1967 version

When a new different version aired on television in 1967, there were many musical differences. Here are the following added songs.

  1. "Air Music" E [where it is retitled "Surfin' Snoopy"]
  2. "Charlie Brown Theme" C
  3. "Charlie Brown Theme" C
  4. "Charlie Brown Theme" C
  5. "Frieda (With The Naturally Curly Hair)" C
  6. "Happiness Is" C
  7. "Charlie Brown Theme" C

[Item of note: Although the album A Charlie Brown Christmas includes Guaraldi's smooth renditions of "The Christmas Song," "My Little Drum" (an arrangement of "The Little Drummer Boy"), and "Greensleeves," those holiday perennials are not mentioned on the show's Music Use Sheet, nor were they part of the show itself.]

Notes

  • This special has been repeated at least once every year since its original broadcast, making it the longest-running animated TV special in history.
  • This special received 2 Emmy Award nominations, one for Special Classification of Individual Achievement and one for Outstanding Children's Program which it had won.
  • This is the only special in which Schroeder's piano sounds like a toy piano when he is asked to play "Jingle Bells" by Lucy. He first plays it like a conventional piano, then an organ, and finally a toy piano on one finger.
  • A running gag in the special is that whenever someone says "That's it!", someone else jumps in alarm.
  • This is the first of two specials in which Charlie Brown is simply called Charlie by one of the other characters. On this occasion, it is Lucy. He would later be simply referred to as Charlie again in Charlie Brown's All-Stars and the 1969 feature film A Boy Named Charlie Brown.
  • Snoopy's doghouse appears to be blue instead of red.
  • The original broadcast preempted The Munsters.
  • The original broadcast featured two very brief scenes that included references to Coca-Cola. In the opening, immediately after the title screen where Charlie Brown crashes into a tree after being tossed into the air by Snoopy, Linus crashes into a sign that reads "Brought to you by the people in your town who bottle Coca-Cola" (An alternate take, in which the sign instead said "Danger", was made and used in early promos advertising the special, but it is unknown what happened to this version.[1]); and during the closing credits, following the United Feature Syndicate credit, "Merry Christmas from the people who bottle Coca-Cola" fades in. Both scenes were removed following the original broadcast as a result of subsequent FCC laws precluding sponsor plugs in the context of children's programs; as a result, in all current prints, including CBS' 1997 remastered print, it quickly fades out after the opening title and the singing in the closing credits fades out.
    • The can that the gang throws snowballs at has always been a generic can, even in the original broadcast. The removal of this particular scene was part of the edits done by CBS when it aired the special during the early 1990s until it was remastered in 1997, and as a result, it spawned a myth in which the reason it was edited out was that the can was a Coca-Cola can.
  • When they first saw the show, CBS executives were horrified at the idea of an animated Christmas special with such a blatant message. They also strongly objected to the fact that the show had no canned laughter. A version with a laugh track was produced but later discarded after the success of the broadcast version.
  • Kathy Steinberg, who did the voice of Sally Brown, had not yet learned to read at the time of production, so she had to be fed her lines, often a word or syllable at a time, which explains the rather choppy delivery of the line: "All I want is what I have come to me. All I want is my fair share."
  • Bill Melendez tried to talk Charles M. Schulz out of using Biblical references (especially Linus's speech) in this special. Schulz reportedly won him over by saying, "If we don't do it, who will?" As it turned out, Linus' recitation was hailed as one of the most powerful moments in the highly acclaimed special.
    • Linus's speech about the true meaning of Christmas is actually Luke 2:8-14 from the King James translation of the Bible.
  • In addition to the soundtrack album containing music by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, a Disney Read-Along record was later produced, which re-created the special as a radio program-like audio experience (this was before the prevalence of home video). This book-and-record set re-created almost the entire program, with only some minor cuts (primarily musical).
  • Two making-of documentaries have been made: the first is The Making of A Charlie Brown Christmas, which was hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and aired following ABC's initial airing of the special in 2001, and the second is a completely unrelated documentary that was created for Warner Home Video's 2008 Deluxe Edition DVD release.
  • Television executives figured that the show would be a rating failure, but instead, it was watched by half the American viewing public. With such spectacular ratings, those same executives soon contacted the producers for a whole series of Peanuts specials that would run for decades.
  • Over the decades, the special was increasingly shortened for time to more commercials until the viewing public protested vigorously. When the broadcast rights were purchased by the ABC TV network, the network compromised with an hour-long timeslot for the special to be broadcast uncut for time, and padding out the remaining time with initially The Making of A Charlie Brown Christmas, and then Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales in subsequent years. Of course, this arrangement also allowed the network to sell twice as many commercial spots for a reliably high-rated annual rerun.
  • Producer Lee Mendelson wrote the lyrics for Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time is Here" music, and his son Glenn, along with his then sixth-grade class, sang the vocals.
  • Production ended ten days before the special premiered.
  • None of the children who voiced the characters received credits at the end.
  • When "A Charlie Brown Christmas" won an Emmy for Outstanding Children's Program in 1966, only Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez were called up to accept the award, but they made sure that Charles Schulz was with them to give the acceptance speech. Schulz's speech simply went, "Charlie Brown's not used to winning, so we thank you."
  • (1 October 2015) The US Postal Service issued a set of ten postage stamps with various scenes from the TV special, to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
  • Not long after the animation was finished Tracy Stratford's voice broke, which is why she never voiced Lucy in another Peanuts special.
  • When the completed special was first presented to the CBS executives, they promptly hated it. Their major complaints were that the pace was too slow, the jazz music didn't work with the special's tone, and the animation was too simple, among other things. However, the special had to air, as CBS had already scheduled and promoted it. As Lee Mendelson later said, "I really believe that if it wasn't already scheduled to air the following week, there was no way they were ever going to broadcast that special."
  • The rock music group Jefferson Airplane wanted autographs from all the kids who voiced the characters.
  • At one point, Lucy mocks Linus' security blanket, asking him what he plans to do with it when he's older, to which Linus smugly replies, "Maybe I'll turn it into a sports coat." In one Peanuts strip series, Linus tried to kick his blanket habit by giving it to Snoopy to keep it away from Linus, and Snoopy ended up turning the blanket into a sports coat.
  • In 1993, Knott's Berry Farm gave out free VHS copies of this special during the holiday season to kids during a special event. The VHS tapes did not contain any previews, promos, studio logos, or even FBI Warnings; it was just the full (unedited) special.
  • The short was watched by over 15 million viewers when it first premiered in 1965.
  • Patty in this special is not Patricia "Peppermint Patty" Reichardt. The latter first appeared several years later in the strip. The former was phased out gradually, disappearing completely by the end of the 1970s, despite being one of the four original Peanuts characters.
  • This special helped bring to an end the brief fad of aluminum Christmas trees, which had been going on since 1958 when it portrayed them in a negative light as part of the over-commercialization of the holiday.
  • The idea was given by John Allen, who worked for an ad agency for Coca-Cola, as he called Lee Mendelson. He originally saw the documentary that was canceled to be broadcast, because he was unable to sell it. He asked Mendelson if the producers of "Peanuts" thought about making a Christmas special. Mendelson admittedly lied, saying "Of course we have." Allen then asked for an outline of the special to be presented in four days. After this conversation, Mendelson promptly called Charles Schultz and said to him, "I just sold 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'." Schultz asked, "What's that?", and Mendelson said, "That's a new show you and I have to come up with this weekend." Mendleson later recalled a long pause of silence before Schultz responded, very casually, "Okay, we can do it."
  • This was the first of several holiday-themed Peanuts specials produced by Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez. It's still their most famous special. The least famous is probably the 1976s "It's Arbor Day Charlie Brown". Or 1984s abysmal effort, "It's a Flashbeagle Charlie Brown", which futilely attempted to steal some of the magic from the 1983 breakdancing musical film "Flashdance". The success of this Emmy-winning special opened the door for their first feature film; the 1968 classic "A Boy Named Charlie Brown."
  • Apple TV+ bought the rights to the Peanuts specials in 2020, and therefore 2020 was supposed to be the first year since A Charlie Brown Christmas premiered that it would not air on free television. However, after an outcry from the public for removing the programs from free television, the specials (beginning with A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and later this special) were offered to public television stations in November and December 2020, sponsored by Apple.

Goofs

  • In the opening skating scene, the close-up of the line where Snoopy has no collar shows 5 after Patty, but in the following wide shot, "Pig-Pen" is in his place.
  • In the dance scene, Patty isn't seen.
  • After Linus sums up to Charlie Brown that "That's what Christmas is all about", Charlie Brown picks up the tree he bought, and walks away from Linus toward the other kids — including a second Linus.
  • After the children have decorated Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, several of them and Snoopy suddenly change position from one shot to the next, and "Pig-Pen" is added in.
  • The first three years the special aired, from 1965 to 1967, the closing singing of the lyrics to "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" included Snoopy mouthing the words; this was corrected in 1968 for all subsequent broadcasts. (Another change, not strictly for a goof, is that in the first three years, Charlie Brown was shown deeply blushing after the others said, "Merry Christmas..." before he joined in the singing.)
    • The changes made in 1968 also introduced a new error that occurs earlier in the whole scene, right after the humming of the "newborn king" line. For two frames the back-row characters in the shot are superimposed over those in the middle row: Patty appears over "Pig-Pen", Shermy appears over Linus, plus just a small bit of Violet over Frieda.
    • Shermy, the boy in the yellow on the right side of the screen, disappears after the gang greets Charlie Brown. In Shermy's place is the boy in a blue coat who is still on the right side of the screen. So Shermy disappears and out comes a clone of the blue boy.
  • When Schroeder and Lucy are discussing what Beethoven contributed, he stops playing the piano, but the piano doesn't stop right away.
  • When Charlie Brown and Linus go looking for a Christmas tree, Linus taps on a metal tree and says, "This one really brings Christmas close to a person". The tree makes a sound the second before he taps on it, not when he taps on it.
  • While at her psychiatry stand and naming Charlie Brown's possible phobias, Lucy says, "How about cats? If you're afraid of cats, you have ailuroPHASIA." If Charlie Brown were indeed afraid of cats he would have ailuroPHOBIA. Ailurophasia is, literally, "Speaking cat".
  • When Charlie Brown consults Lucy for psychiatric help, her sign (as read from the front) says, "The Doctor Is Real In". However, when seen from the side angle, the sign simply says, "The Doctor Is In".
  • The number of branches and needles on the tree that Charlie Brown picks out changes from scene to scene.
  • When Linus is making his speech, Charlie Brown is behind him and to his left, and he is not wearing his red coat. When Linus is briefly shown from his right, Charlie Brown is in the background wearing his coat. When the shot cuts back to a front view, the coat is off again. In the same scene, his coat changes to orange when he brings his tree on stage.
  • During Linus's speech from Luke 2:8-14, he drops his security blanket when he says, "Fear not: for behold..." He continues the rest of his speech with the blanket on the stage next to him. However, in the long shot when he says, "And on earth peace, goodwill toward men," it's back in his left hand. Immediately after, when his speech is finished, he makes a point of picking his blanket up off the stage.
  • When Lucy first changes the "out/real in" sign on her psychiatric help stand, the sign is next to the word "is." In some subsequent shots, the sign is next to the word "doctor."
  • After Charlie Brown is sitting at Lucy's psychiatric booth and says, "That's it!" and Lucy flies backward into the snow, Lucy's lime green and white nickel jar disappears and never reappears. In the same scene, his stool disappears and then comes back in the very next shot.
  • The back of Charlie Brown's head is drawn with three hairs in some scenes and with no hair in others.
  • Frieda has a bald spot in one or two shots.
  • When Linus is giving his speech and the camera draws back for a panoramic shot, there is no yellow director's chair on the stage. However, after Linus gives his speech and Charlie Brown exits the stage left, you see the director's chair sitting in front of the left front curtain.
  • When Charlie Brown and Linus approach the green Christmas tree, there are two trees behind it, the one on the left side is yellow and the one on the right side is dark pink. In the next shot, the tree on the right is a grape purple color.
  • When Linus is given his script during the first rehearsal for the Christmas play, he remarks to Lucy that he "can't memorize something like [the script] so quickly." The camera pans out to Lucy as Linus asks for "one reason" as to why he should be put through such agony by memorizing the lines. As Lucy turns to face Linus, there's a cut in camera shots. However, while the cut shows Lucy has moved to Linus, the background does not change at all. The easiest way to notice this slip-up is to pay attention to a white box that stands open on the left side of the screen. When the cut occurs, the box does not move - no rotating, shifting, or any other movement at all. This goes for the curtain and doors in the back as well. This makes Lucy seem as though she has suddenly teleported herself to her spot in front of Linus.
  • After Charlie Brown and Linus find the green Christmas tree, Schroeder plays "Für Elise" and his bottom area disappears for the entire scene. It then appears in the next scene, the scene where Charlie Brown sets his green Christmas tree on the piano top.
  • When skating, Patty, the girl with orange bows and striped dress, has a bow on each side of her head. When Snoopy spins everyone, she has only one bow. When she is trying to catch snowflakes on her tongue, she has only one bow on her right side. When Charlie Brown is introduced as the director, she now has one bow on her left side. When Charlie Brown leaves the stage after Linus's speech, she has two bows again.
  • When Schroeder is playing his piano and Snoopy comes on screen to dance, he appears to suddenly appear in the middle of the frame out of thin air. However, dust clouds can be seen on the left side of the screen for several frames beforehand, indicating that this is where Snoopy appeared.
  • The cels of Lucy in her psychiatry stand are not properly aligned to the background so that the cutoff line of her body overlaps the edge of the tabletop.

Gallery

References

External links

Peanuts Animated Features
TV Specials A Charlie Brown ChristmasCharlie Brown's All-StarsIt's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie BrownYou're in Love, Charlie BrownHe's Your Dog, Charlie BrownIt Was a Short Summer, Charlie BrownPlay It Again, Charlie BrownYou're Not Elected, Charlie BrownThere's No Time for Love, Charlie BrownA Charlie Brown ThanksgivingIt's a Mystery, Charlie BrownIt's the Easter Beagle, Charlie BrownBe My Valentine, Charlie BrownYou're a Good Sport, Charlie BrownIt's Arbor Day, Charlie BrownIt's Your First Kiss, Charlie BrownWhat a Nightmare, Charlie BrownYou're the Greatest, Charlie BrownShe's a Good Skate, Charlie BrownLife Is a Circus, Charlie BrownIt's Magic, Charlie BrownSomeday You'll Find Her, Charlie BrownA Charlie Brown CelebrationIs This Goodbye, Charlie Brown?It's an Adventure, Charlie BrownWhat Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?It's Flashbeagle, Charlie BrownSnoopy's Getting Married, Charlie BrownYou're a Good Man, Charlie BrownHappy New Year, Charlie Brown!Snoopy!!! The MusicalIt's the Girl in the Red Truck, Charlie BrownWhy, Charlie Brown, Why?Snoopy's ReunionIt's Spring Training, Charlie BrownIt's Christmastime Again, Charlie BrownYou're in the Super Bowl, Charlie BrownIt Was My Best Birthday Ever, Charlie BrownIt's the Pied Piper, Charlie BrownA Charlie Brown ValentineCharlie Brown's Christmas TalesLucy Must Be Traded, Charlie BrownI Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie BrownHe's a Bully, Charlie BrownHappiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie BrownSnoopy Presents: For Auld Lang SyneSnoopy Presents: It's the Small Things, Charlie BrownSnoopy Presents: To Mom (and Dad), With LoveSnoopy Presents: Lucy's School
Movies A Boy Named Charlie BrownSnoopy, Come HomeRace for Your Life, Charlie BrownBon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don't Come Back!!)The Peanuts Movie
The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show "Snoopy's Cat Fight" • "Snoopy: Team Manager" • "Linus and Lucy" • "Lucy vs. the World" • "Linus' Security Blanket" • "Snoopy: Man's Best Friend" • "Snoopy the Psychiatrist" • "You Can't Win, Charlie Brown" • "The Lost Ballpark" • "Snoopy's Football Career" • "Chaos in the Classroom" • "It's That Team Spirit, Charlie Brown" • "Lucy Loves Schroeder" • "Snoopy and the Giant" • "Snoopy's Brother Spike" • "Snoopy's Robot" • "Peppermint Patty's School Days" • "Sally's Sweet Babboo"
This Is America, Charlie Brown "The Mayflower Voyagers" • "The Birth of the Constitution" • "The Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk" • "The NASA Space Station" • "The Building of the Transcontinental Railroad" • "The Great Inventors" • "The Smithsonian and the Presidency" • "The Music and Heroes of America"
Snoopy in Space "The Application" • "Training" • "The Graduation" • "Welcome to the ISS" • "I Never Promised You a Space Garden" • "Space Sleepwalking" • "The Journey on Orion" • "Crater Crash" • "Searching for Moon Rocks" • "You're a Good Moon, Charlie Brown" • "The Next Mission" • "Mars or Bust"
Others Peanuts (2014 TV series) • Peanuts Motion ComicsThe Snoopy Show
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