For those who still aren’t feeling the Christmas spirit yet, we suggest you watch the short animated film A Charlie Brown Christmas. Originally released in 1965, the Peanuts classic has entered Christmas canon, and has been aired during the holiday season every year until today.
Watch the Christmas special below:
A Charlie Brown Christmas follows as Charlie Brown tries to understand Christmas, while the kids around him are focused on the material aspect of the holidays. He is further dismayed when he sees Snoopy joining a commercial contest to find the most beautifully-decorated space. To cheer him up, Lucy assigns him to direct the school play, but becomes even sadder when the other kids don’t cooperate. He buys a Christmas tree, but they continue to mock him.
It may be a depressing watch at first, but A Charlie Brown Christmas redeems itself when the kids realize the true value of Christmas. It’s this touching tribute that has made the short film an enduring classic.
But that wasn’t always the case.
Yes, the comic strip Peanuts, written and illustrated by Charles M. Schulz, was already popular back then. In April 1965, the cast of was on the cover of TIME magazine. However, the original plan was to create a half-hour documentary, and no network was interested in airing it. But an advertising agency had another idea. John Allen of the McCann Erickson Agency in New York thought of partnering with the Coca-Cola Company for a half-hour Peanuts Christmas special, and TV producer Lee Mendelson blindly agreed to it.
There was a catch. Mendelson and Schulz agreed on Wednesday, but the Coca-Cola Company wanted to see an outline by Monday. The duo then got to work, with Mendelson saying most of the ideas came from Schulz. They finished the outline in less than a day, and presented it to McCann as “winter scenes, a school play, a scene to be read from the Bible, and a sound track combining jazz and traditional music.”
It was a hit. The Coca-Cola Company bought the special, but they wanted an early release, meaning Mendelson and Schulz had six months to put together the team and begin production.
Schulz wanted the story to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, which involved Linus reading a verse from the Bible. Mendelson and animator Bill Melendez were initially skeptical, as religion was a controversial topic. To that, Schulz replied, “If we don’t do it, who will?” The story was completed in a matter of weeks, with Melendez creating a storyboard with six panels per shot.
In terms of casting, Mendelson, Melendez, and Schulz searched valiantly to find actors to capture the essence of their characters. Charlie Brown, for example, had to exude an air of nonchalance. In the end, eight year old Peter Robbins played Brown, Christopher Shea played Linus, and six year old Kathy Steinberg played Sally. Steinberg was so young that she had to be given her lines one at a time. Because the cast was composed of kids, the recording was chaotic, with children running around.
The soundtrack of A Charlie Brown Christmas was notable for its use of jazz and traditional Christmas music. The Vince Guaraldi Trio composed the soundtrack, after Mendelson, a jazz fan, heard the band perform “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” on radio. The soundtrack went on to sell four million copies in the United States of America, and was voted in 2007 to be included in the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2012, it was added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry list of “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” American sound recordings.
A Charlie Brown Christmas finished 10 days before its premiere, and everyone hated it. When Melendez first saw it, he told his animators, “My golly, we’ve killed it.” The network executives didn’t like it either because of its slow pace, ill-fitting music, and simple animation. They debated whether they should invite TIME TV critic Richard Burgheim to see it, and when he finally did, he said that “A Charlie Brown Christmas is one children’s special this season that bears repeating.”
When it premiered on CBS on December 9, 1965, the reviews were glowing. The Hollywood Reporter called it “delightfully novel and amusing,” while The Washington Post said that “natural-born loser Charlie Brown finally turned up a real winner last night.” More importantly, 45% of those watching TV that night watched the Christmas special.
Since then, it was aired twice a year every December. In 2005, the show celebrated its 40th anniversary, and enjoyed the highest ratings in its time slot. For its 50th anniversary in 2015, a two-hour special hosted by Kristen Chenoweth was aired, with performances by Chenoweth, Matthew Morrison, Sarah McLachlan, Boyz II Men, Pentatonix, David Benoit, and the All-American Boys Chorus.
Fifty-one years later, people around the world are still watching it. You are now part of the tradition.
Merry Christmas from your WheninManila.com family!
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