Cartoon Review: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Posted: October 27, 2010 in Cartoon Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966 CBS, Dir. Bill Menedez)

What would Halloween be for a Baby Boomer – Gen Xer former kid without Linus Van Pelt sitting in a pumpkin patch waiting for Santa Claus to come? What’s that? Oh yes, the Great Pumpkin was originally devised by Charles Schultz as an amusing story about Linus being badly confused about Christmas and Halloween. Since Linus started out as an eccentric baby in the strip, this was probably a logical extension of that. Oddly, the sun shows up twice inside of 6 seconds in this thing. Right at the opening bit, They pass the sun, and then just as Linus is going to throw the apple away they pass it again.

Charlie Brown understands that the only defense against the world is to avoid any expression of emotion.

Even Snoopy seems to understand the futility of life.

One of the things I find interesting is that the show is almost devoid of traditional narrative convention. There isn’t really a story arch, and the action regularly moves between three different plots. This might be because there wasn’t enough story to hold an entire half hour together, but I prefer to see it as a precursor to shows like Deadwood which can have as many as 10 plots going on in a single episode. If only Lucy would call Charlie Brown a cocksucker instead of a blockhead then I would have my theory complete.

Even when angry, he knows there is no hope. For death stalks him at every step.

Snoopy’s soul, crushed by the weight of the world, leads him away to his fate.

The first plot is probably the most straight forward, and the one with the closest thing to a narrative arch in this avant garde cartoon. Linus wants to wait for the Great Pumpkin, believing that he’ll come to the most sincere pumpkin patch. This year, he thinks that he has found such a patch of large orange squash. He goes through the rigors of writing a letter to the Great Pumpkin, stating his intensions and then goes on to gather a recruit like all good cult leaders. Sally, deeply in love with Linus, agrees to accompany him to the pumpkin patch. As a side note, I wonder why Linus is writing a letter when they’re clearly having a party at his house. Five or six people come and talk to him while he’s writing this note. Of course since everyone but Sally has nothing but derision for his beliefs, maybe it’s not too surprising that he doesn’t want to talk to anyone else.

The lonely vigil of the truly faithful.

“Any attempt to understand God would be pointless. Either there is no God, or his greatness is so vast our minds could never understand his whims!”

It’s at this point that we start to see divergence in the story. Like so many great epics, the characters start to go their separate ways looking for what they want most in life. As is usual with old School Peanuts though, each character is defeated in their search for what their heart truly desires, sometimes only understanding what they wanted when the chance was gone. See kids, if you study film and literature long enough, silly phrases like these will rub off on you and you’ll find you’re placing them in a half hour holiday cartoon.

The darkness fills us with doubts.

Love brings the only color to this dark and sad world.

As the action bounces back so rapidly, I’ll try instead to present each story line on its own. The main story of course involves Linus’s dual wish, to see the Great Pumpkin and to recruit Sally into his cult. Sally’s wish of course it to be alone with Linus for a little romantic interlude. Of course Linus will fail to see the GP and by the end of the story Sally will have stormed off in rage feeling cheated of everything. Not only does Sally not get smooches in the moonlight, but she spends the entire time with a guy who doesn’t really see that she wants amorous attentions. Sadly, Sally is probably looking at her future here. Romantic frustrations will follow her like crows through out her life. Linus of course ends up like so many of the faithful, mocked and derided for his beliefs. The group comes around, trying to convince him to join in the fun and abandon his vigil to no avail. In the end he’s found cold and alone, shivering on the ground in the pumpkin patch forgotten by everyone but his sister. Beaten and defeated by a world that doesn’t understand him, he’s brought to bed like a prize fighter with his blanket over his shoulders and his head hung low.

Even when she comes to get him from the night, all his sister has for him is contempt.

A rock and another rock.

The second and perhaps sadder of the three story lines involves Charlie Brown’s life long quest to find simple human dignity. His failure is far more tragic because his is not only a much more universal wish, but because the entire world is pitted against him. Lucy yanks the football away from him, and then informs him that his invitation to a Halloween party is obviously part of a clerical error. The humiliation is compounded when he goes trick-or-treating and is given a unanimous thumbs down on his costume by getting nothing but a bag of rocks. The inhumanity is continued when he’s forced to have the back of his head used as a pre-visualization for a jack-o-lantern. In the end, far from receiving any milk of human kindness, he’s berated by his best friend Linus for failing to believe that the Great Pumpkin is real. You may not be aware of this if you’ve only ever seen it on TV, where the sound often gets replaced by the station to announce what’s coming next, but Linus’s tirade continues through the entire end credits. There is no justice in the Peanut’s world. No fellowship, no understanding, nothing. Each of these poor creatures is forced to stand alone, and even their merest attempts at consolation results in yet another attack of their already battered psyches.

“I shall draw my pain out onto this skull, and then my pain shall have expression.”

Terrors follow out heroes everywhere, there is no hope for them.

The final story line is barely a story line at all. It’s about Snoopy, dressed up as a World War One Flying Ace. Snoopy performs in a pantomime while Charlie Brown narrates the adventure for us. This is an odd bit because all it does is go through Snoopy’s imagination. There isn’t even a wish or point to it. It’s just him flying on his dog house and then wandering around in the French Country side of his mind. This section has the most interesting visuals, making good use of silhouette. Eventually Snoopy runs into the Halloween party, and then makes his way to the pumpkin patch to scare the living daylights out of Linus. When Linus faints Snoopy then vanishes from the story, leaving only Sally to express her frustration at missing Trick-Or-Treating. Only then does she realize the importance of Trick-Or-Treating. Snoopy seems unfazed by this though. Clearly he has managed to avoid the pains all the other characters suffer by retreating into a dream world. The message is clear, only in insanity can we make this world bearable.

Snoopy does his best to bring color to this world, but fears the world is against him.

Only in Madness do we find relief!

In the end we see that the Peanuts gang understands that the nature of horror is within tragedy and regret. Sure, life and limb being threatened is part of it, but really it’s the survivors of this tale that must envy those who didn’t make it. In the end, we are given a taste of a horror we all can understand. It’s simple and tragic in nature, giving us all time to reflect. Life is futility, and it contains pain and suffering until the bleak end when we discover that there is no God to hold or protect us. Linus cries “Oh Great Pumpkin, where are you?” which is the cry of a generation. Where ARE you Great Pumpkin? We’ve been wating, and we’re begining to think you might never come. Dark and tragic this tale is, and while we wish to look away, we are compelled to watch.

It’s just like that scene in the Seventh Seal when the flagellants show up.

They travel from place to place, but never seem to go anywhere. Truly this can be said of all of us.

Apart from the wonderfully tragic tale, the visuals in this story are quite good. We’re treated to a wide variety of styles from simply ink and paint to watercolor and charcoal backgrounds of the night sky. Snoopy’s odyssey, as I said before, is loaded with interesting color and visual schemes. It’s actually a fair sophisticated amount of art direction for what was undoubtedly viewed by the studio as a quick and cheap project intended for only one viewing a year. Sadly, this is the only one of the main three holiday Peanuts specials I can still watch on its own merits. Those of you who remember the Thanksgiving special and my review of the Christmas show will note that I am quite cynical and even nasty about those others. This one though, I think the dark tragedy saves it for me.

His cries follow us into the night.

Hey, why not buy your own copy today? I mean, besides the fact that you can watch it for free on the internet. Okay, time for a score…

Official Score:
50 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

Bookmark and Share


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s