|Directed by:||Bill Melendez|
|Written by:||Charles M. Schulz|
|Release date:||December 9, 1965|
|Running time:||25 minutes|
|Preceded by:||No previous special|
|Followed by:||Charlie Brown's All-Stars|
|Availability:||A Charlie Brown Christmas VHS, A Charlie Brown Christmas iTunes, A Charlie Brown Christmas DVD, A Charlie Brown Christmas Deluxe Edition DVD, Peanuts 1960's Collection DVD|
A Charlie Brown Christmas is the first of many 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 all the commercialism.
Many of the Peanuts characters that had been introduced into 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.
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 (shouting after Violet as she walks away): "Don't you know sarcasm when you hear it?!?"
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 really wants; real estate.
On the way to the theater, Charlie Brown is drawn to Snoopy, who is frantically and gleefully busy decorating his doghouse. Demanding an explanation, Snoopy hands Charlie Brown a flyer about a neighborhood Christmas lights and display contest. Charlie Brown walks away in frustration at his own dog having being 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 of even his sister's secularization.
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, ironically as well as symbolically, is the only real tree on the lot. Linus is reluctant about Charlie Brown's decision, but Charlie Brown is convinced that decorating it will be just right for the play. They return to the auditorium with the tree, only to be verbally castigated by everyone, especially Lucy, about the choice of tree. Second guessing himself, Charlie Brown begins to wonder if he really knows what Christmas is about, loudly asking in despair. Linus quietly says he can tell him, and walks to center 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. 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, screams, "I've killed it. AUGHH!! 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," he wraps his blanket around the base of the trunk and adds, "It's not bad at all, really. 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. 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, now with Charlie Brown, begin singing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" as the end credits roll and the snow begins to fall.
- 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 shouts. '"THAT'S IT!", someone else jumps in alarm.
- This is the only special in which Charlie Brown is simply called Charlie by one of the other characters, namely Lucy. He would later be simpy referred to as Charlie again in 1969's "A Boy Named Charlie Brown".
- In the original broadcasts at the end, the announcer says,"Brought to you by the people in your town who bottle Coca-Cola." That is why at the end, the singing fades off.
- 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 coming 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.
- 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 show-like audio experience (this was before the prevalence of home video). This book-and-record set set re-created almost the entire program, with only some minor cuts (primarily musical).
- Peter Robbins - Charlie Brown
- Christopher Shea - Linus van Pelt
- Tracy Stratford - Lucy van Pelt
- Kathy Steinberg - Sally Brown
- Sally Dryer - Violet
- Karen Mendelson - Patty
- Ann Altieri - Frieda
- Chris Doran - Schroeder/Shermy
- Gregory Orstein - "Pig-Pen"
- Bill Melendez - Snoopy
- Members of the choir of St. Paul's Episcopal Church (San Rafael, CA) provided vocals for the songs "Christmas Time is Here", "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing", as well as when the kids all shout "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!" at the end of the show.