Peanuts and Pumpkins

Three years ago, New York Magazine’s website Vulture ranked all forty-five Peanuts animated television specials from worst to best, including a paragraph on each one to justify its ranking. I wouldn’t have guessed Charlie Brown, Linus, and Lucy appeared in fifteen television specials let alone forty-five. But let’s be honest; only two Peanuts adventures have had any staying power: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (#2 on Vulture’s list), and A Charlie Brown Christmas (#1).

Maybe I’ll weigh in on the Christmas special in a couple of months, but with Halloween on the horizon I need to speak to the runner-up. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown first aired on television in 1966, so those who were alive back then (me) have the chance to see it for the 56th time this year. But maybe not? The networks stopped showing Great Pumpkin two years ago.  Other than PBS in select locations, you’ll have to buy the DVD or subscribe to Apple TV+ to watch Charlie Brown get another rock in his trick-or-treat bag.

Writing about a Peanuts special dates me – there’s no question.  But it’s still worth the words.  The Peanuts gang was the comic strip of my youth.  I remember the anticipation of the Sunday morning newspaper and the “funnies” pages.  Charles M. Schulz and his Peanuts characters always got the first slot.  When the specials debuted in the mid-60s, it was a big deal.  It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown only showed up once a year, in mid-October.  We didn’t have DVRs (let alone streaming) back then, so watch it live or you’d miss it.  Peanuts specials were always the hot topic of conversation at grade school the next day.

After so many watches, Great Pumpkin becomes an interesting study.  You pick up on the little things, the ones which would implode under the weight of today’s social media scrutiny.  Right out of the credits, Linus & Lucy head to a patch to pick out a pumpkin.  On the way, Linus picks up an apple among the fallen leaves, takes a single bite, and tosses it into a trash can. (Unnecessary waste!).  In another scene, Lucy stabs a pumpkin with a giant knife as she begins carving (Children with weapons!).  Then Linus looks on in horror and says, “I didn’t realize you were going to kill it!” (Violence!)

Great Pumpkin touches on other themes to sink today’s children’s shows, including bullying, teasing, and casual use of words like “stupid” and “blockhead”.  Charlie Brown is the butt of several jokes, including Lucy pulling the football away just as he tries to kick, and the girls using the back of his head to draw a pumpkin carving design.  Yes, I laughed at these scenes when I was a kid, but only because I wasn’t that kid (and because it was the 1960s humor).

Here’s an oddity with Great Pumpkin.  You’d think a short animation would be a continuous story.  Not so.  Great Pumpkin jumps awkwardly between disconnected scenes, from carving pumpkins to trick-or-treating to a Halloween Party.  The middle minutes shift randomly to Snoopy acting out his costumed “World War I Flying Ace” in the middle of France.  It’s as if Great Pumpkin didn’t have enough Halloween material to fill a half-hour, or at least needed an excuse to include Snoopy in the story.

Finally, “the Great Pumpkin” itself is completely akin to Santa Claus, but for a different holiday.  Linus writes a letter to the Great Pumpkin to say he’s looking forward to the arrival on Halloween night and hoping for lots of presents.  The Great Pumpkin visits pumpkin patches the way Santa Claus visits houses.  There’s even a mention of “pumpkin carols”.  You’re left wondering why this figment of Linus’ imagination wasn’t a little more unique.

If you haven’t watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, I probably haven’t given you reasons to rush to your television.  It’s simple and disjointed, and the animation doesn’t win the show any awards (even in the 1960s).  But just like A Charlie Brown Christmas, the characters are endearing, and the story has a pretty good message.  I’ll probably find myself looking for it again next year.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Author: Dave

Three hundred posts would suggest I have something to say… This blog was born from a desire to elevate the English language, highlighting eloquent words from days gone by. The stories I share are snippets of life itself, and each comes with a bonus: a dusted-off word I hope you’ll go on to use more often. Read “Deutschland-ish Improvements” to learn about my backyard European wish list. Try “Slush Fun” for the throwback years of the 7-Eleven convenience store. Or drink in "Iced Coffee" to discover the plight of the rural French cafe. On the lighter side, read "Late Night Racquet Sports" for my adventures with our latest moth invasion. As Walt Whitman said, “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Here then, my verse. Welcome to Life In A Word.

14 thoughts on “Peanuts and Pumpkins”

    1. Glad your generation still watches this one, Lyssy! Despite my somewhat critical review I wholeheartedly agree it’s a classic, and a close #2 to “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. Linus steals the show in both specials.

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  1. I always felt so sorry for Charlie Brown, and wanted to give Lucy a piece of my mind! Pig Pen was my favorite. Loved the way his little dust cloud followed him everywhere. Oh, but then there was Schroeder playing Beethoven on his toy piano. Quite the talent. And we can’t forget little Linus with his security blanket. You are so right Dave: it’s the endearing characters that made every special such a delight to watch. (Must admit though, I didn’t much care for The Great Pumpkin, as poor Charlie Brown set himself up for disaster through the whole thing!)

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    1. It’s a favorite scene Nancy, when Pig Pen shows up at the Halloween party and everyone knows who’s under the costume because of the little dust cloud. But I agree, Charlie Brown takes the bulk of the ribbing, and there’s no feel-good conclusion like there is in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.

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  2. I just wonder where Linus got the idea in the first place. I mean, he is so doggedly fixed in his belief that he must have been presented with the idea by an authority figure such as a parent (see: Santa Claus). What parent would make such a thing up, and why? Were they intentionally trying to keep Linus from trick-or-treating? And if so, wouldn’t they then salt his pumpkin patch with some toys so that when he wakes up (after falling asleep in the patch) he can feel justified in his belief?

    I have to give a lot of credit to Lucy, who for all her crabbiness (is that a word?) collects extra candy for her crazy little brother, and then, after he has fallen asleep, gently takes him to bed. It shows a side of her that you rarely see otherwise, and gives an added depth to this holiday classic (I, too, own the DVD).

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    1. I picked up on Lucy’s gesture as well. Can’t think of another instance where she behaved admirably towards Linus. And I never thought about the origin of Linus’s Great Pumpkin. Maybe he made it up himself, maybe his parents put it in his head, but it bothers me the concept was so much like Santa Claus when it could’ve been more unique. I know Schulz preferred to leave the parents out of his stories so I guess we’ll never know. The whole story could’ve been so much more cohesive, but somehow it remains a classic.


  3. I’ve never seen this special Dave – maybe I need to look it up on YouTube since I don’t have cable, nor antennae TV. I agree you did not give it the ringing endorsement that the Peanuts Christmas Special gets (and which I’ve seen), but I’ll seek it out to watch those great Charles Schultz’ characters interact with one another and give me a warm feeling. The holiday specials for kids these days will never match those much-loved annual specials which turned into holiday traditions back in the day. Hot chocolate and cookies and in my PJs and slippers on a school night instead of already being in fast asleep. You HAD to park yourself there because back then, as you say, there was no streaming, VCRs/DVDs. It was “appointment TV” long before the fancy-schmancy productions that are cranked out today.

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    1. In my mind, there are very few children’s holiday shows worth the few minutes to watch and I can’t add any recent ones, can you? “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (the stop-action version). “Frosty the Snowman”. Maybe “The Nightmare Before Christmas”? This could be a hot topic for debate, Linda 🙂

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      1. I only saw the kids’ holiday shows when I was growing up Dave. I’m a bit of an oddity in that I have no siblings, nor any children, never even babysat, so I’m not familiar with kids’ shows, Christmas or otherwise. Also, I have not seen TV in 11 years since I cancelled my cable. I am trying to watch some shows and movies I missed by using my Amazon Prime subscription. My TV is from the early 90s so I cannot use a streaming service, so need to do it through my computer.

        I wrote a post last Christmas about “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman” and that I videotaped those two shows years ago, along with “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and every year I sat down and watched them. My mom bought me the boxed set of “Rudolph” and “Frosty” one year for Christmas because she knew I am enjoyed them and I still have it and treasure it as those were very fond childhood memories.

        I’ve never seen “The Nightmare Before Christmas” nor “A Christmas Story” either. I will probably shock you if I tell you I’ve only seen bits and pieces of “A Wonderful Life” and “White Christmas” – maybe when I’m retired I would like to see some classic movies and read some of the classic novels. Amazingly, I made it through high school and college, graduating with a B.A. and never read a lot of the classic novels. You should definitely raise the topic in a post around the holidays Dave!

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    1. “Nancy”! Now there’s a long-hidden memory. Her image comes back to me immediately. Humor very much in the same vein as “Peanuts”. Ah, young and innocent days, right?

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  4. I have not seen The Great Pumpkin episode in years, but I was an eager viewer at the debut. I always wondered what kind of mean adult would give one kid a rock while giving candy to everyone else.

    I think Schultz (who was an ordained minister, if I recall) knew how to bring out empathy from his viewers for the poor kid who always got a raw deal.

    Like you, I had no idea so many Peanuts specials were made. I liked the Thanksgiving show too.


  5. Schultz only wanted the first house to give CB a rock but I guess he got overruled by the producers. Pretty harsh yes, but maybe we’re speaking from the society in which we find ourselves currently immersed? It seems we can’t offend anyone anymore.


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