Dec 24, 2014

Review: A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

A Charlie Brown Christmas has to be one of the most amusing tales of film production. At the time, Peanuts had become a worldwide phenomenon and Lee Mendelson was looking to make a documentary on its success. Writer Charles M. Schulz agreed to take part in it, but unfortunately no TV studio wanted it. However, an offer came through for a thirty minute special that Mendelson agreed to immediately, thinking to use it as leverage to sell his Schulz documentary.

What followed was an animated production made on a shoestring budget, an unheard of Biblical reading as well as a voice cast totally composed of children which had never been done before. It went over budget and was rushed to meet the deadline. Pretty much everything pointed to it being a complete failure which is the exact opposite of what happened. Reception was overwhelmingly positive and it has become a staple during Christmas in North America.

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Genre: animation, short, comedy
Directed by: Bill Melendez
Produced by: Bill Melendez, Lee Mendelson
Written by: Charles M. Schulz
Music by: Vince Guaraldi
Running time: 25 minutes
Production company: Lee Mendelson Film Productions, Bill Melendez Productions, United Feature Syndicate
Distributed by: Columbia Broadcasting System, American Broadcasting Company, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $96,000
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Peter Robbins, Chris Shea, Tracy Stratford, Kathy Steinberg, Bill Melendez, Chris Doran, Karen Mendelson, Geoffrey Orstein, Sally Dryer, Anne Altieri

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Synopsis


Charlie Brown (voice: Peter Robbins) just doesn't get Christmas. For a season where everyone seems to be cheerful and happy, he finds himself down in the dumps and at a complete loss for the true meaning of Christmas. Lucy (voice: Tracy Stratford) suggests that he be involved and become the director of a Christmas play that's being put on with all his friends. Despite taking his role very seriously, Christmas continues to evade Charlie Brown.

Review


To call A Charlie Brown Christmas sophisticated would be completely wrong. Pretty much everything about it is bare bones. The animation is crude and even the sound and voice-acting seem to be poorly recorded. The story itself is quite thin and there seem to be some pretty large gaps in dialogue. Despite seeming like an easy write-off on the surface, ACBC is anything but.

This is probably one of the simplest, but best "search for the true meaning of Christmas" stories ever. I'm also really impressed at how a story from 1965 continues to resonate, possibly even more than it ever has before. References to the over-commercialism of Christmas are made with the Schulz brand of humour and he's on-point at every turn. 

It's funny how Linus makes the comment that besides just being over-commercialized, Christmas is becoming too dangerous. In a society where injuries happening during Boxing Day and Black Friday are commonplace, it's a pretty sad development.

(Spoilers) While I'm not a very religious guy, I can't get over the boldness of Linus' biblical monologue and that hasn't diminished even a little bit after all these years of seeing this famous scene. The gravitas that it packs is impossible not to respect. (End Spoilers) Christmas isn't about shopping, having the loudest Christmas decorations or getting the most presents. It's really about the birth of Jesus and while I'm not a believer, I recognize that he was brought into the world so that we could all be better people. That's something more than worthwhile for anyone to aspire to.

While the production values of A Charlie Brown Christmas are nowhere near world class, it's actually something that perfectly aligns with the film's message. No amount of restoration will ever be able to fix those shortcomings and we should all be accepting of that. I wouldn't want this short any other way, cracks and all. It's sad seeing all the merchandising that's out there these days for ACBC which runs counter to the film's anti-commercialism message. Despite so many people seeing this short over the last decades, I think its message has fallen on deaf ears mostly.

Rating


9/10