Saturday, 20 December 2014
The Critic Who Didn’t Like ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’
But that was all minor. I really liked the special. I was a big Peanuts fan at the time. I had put together scrapbooks of Peanuts comics I had cut out of one of the city papers. I even convinced my dad to let me use his reel-to-reel tape machine and put up a mike next to the TV speaker to record the Christmas special.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” won a Peabody, launched seemingly endless hours of Peanuts on TV, and was beloved by everyone.
Okay, not everyone.
I’ve gone back through a bunch of newspapers to see, after its debut 49 years ago, what the critics thought. And the TV columnist for the Associated Press, who had panned a Danny Thomas special in her previous column, wasn’t charmed by the animated Charlie Brown.
Cartoon Cuties Lose Some Of Charm on TV
By CYNTHIA LOWRY
AP TV-Radio Writer
And by some reverse magic, the moment the little pen-line characters were animated and moved off the printed page, and acquired voices, they lost most of their special, piquant charm.
Thus “A Charlie Brown Christmas” became an explicit demonstration of the sad truth that some good things are better left alone—particularly in cases when about half their charm is in the eye of the beholder and in his imagination, too.
Charlie Brown was an infinitely sadder, appealing and sympathetic little character when his admirers were able to fill out his personality with some of their own doubts and fears. Lucy’s destructive manner and bossy ways were much more deadly when the readers were able to identify her with humans of their acquaintance.
With that, the writer turned her attention to weekend pro football games on the tube for the rest of the column.
However, United Press International’s counterpart had a different opinion, though much of his column looks like it comes from transcribing the plot from a CBS news release.
‘Charlie Brown Christmas’ Gets Good Point Across
By RICK Du Brow
HOLLYWOOD (UPI) — The comic strip known as “Peanuts” staked out a claim to a major television future Thursday night on CBS-TV with a half-hour animated special about the commercialization of Christmas.
The program, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”—named after one of the chief characters in the strip—was referred to by CBS-TV as “The first of a planned series of Charlie Brown holiday specials,” and the idea of similar encores is thoroughly welcome.
The plot, so to speak, of Thursday night's half-hour is indicated as follows: “Everywhere Charlie Brown goes the shadow of commercialism and greed obscures what he knows exists somewhere, if only he can find it: The real Christmas.
“In desperation Charlie visits Lucy, the little girl ‘psychiatrist,’ who prescribes ‘involvement’ in the holiday activities and appoints him director of the neighborhood Christmas play. Thrilled by the idea of being leader of the pageant, Charlie soon finds only added disillusionment as his little friends concern themselves with pleas to Santa Claus, money-making schemes and rock ‘n’ roll carols.”
Well, you get the idea. And Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy the dog, Schroeder and the others were on hand to flesh it out And Charles Schulz, creator of “Peanuts,” did the writing, which was a very smart move.
At one point, Lucy tells “Beethoven wasn't so great. Have you ever seen his picture on bubble gum cards?” At another point, asked what she really wants for Christmas, Lucy answers: “Real estate.” And another time she notes that it's well known that Christmas is commercial, and that it is run by a big Eastern syndicate.
Needless to say, Charlie Brown finally gets his message across. But, as might be expected, that crazy-silly-wonderful dog Snoopy was the scene-stealer every time he appeared — playing the guitar, mocking Lucy or dancing like a swinger. His doghouse, by the way, was wildly decorated with all those ugly lights and blinking designs that human beings also have been known to use on their homes at Christmas time.
Incidentally, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” wasn’t Charles Schulz’s first go-around with the holiday season. In the December 1963 edition of Good Housekeeping, there was an “exclusive bonus book” called “Charlie Brown Christmas Stocking.” And Variety announced on October 27, 1963 that World Publishing would be out with a book called “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” conveniently available for purchase after the charming TV special aired. After all, what’s Christmas without making a buck?