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"Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"
Produced on the cheap and quick for CBS in 1965 (a careful viewer will notice that it's rife with animation errors due to its rushed production), this special has nonetheless gone on to become one of the most iconic Christmas works of all time. It's also one of the most successful of all time, having been reliably on TV from its debut to the modern day. In fact, if you're from a Christmas-celebrating household, chances are you've already watched this more times than you can count and we don't have to tell you anything. But then again, where's the fun in that?
The special is based around Charles Schulz's Peanuts characters. As is his wont, Charlie Brown is having a Very Butt Monkey holiday season: He's received no Christmas cards, he doesn't feel happy, and he's been roped into helping Lucy with her Christmas pageant. After he struggles with directing, she gives him a task: find the perfect Christmas tree for her play. Preferably aluminum and painted pink. Charlie Brown comes back with a twig of a sapling that's too tiny to even support the weight of a single ornament, and the kids' reaction causes him to wonder if anyone knows what Christmas is really all about.
Yes, that's the whole plot. And yes, the animation is cheesy to go with it.
And yet... there's a reason this 25-minute cartoon has been on TV every year for over 40 years, and was the first of many specials focusing on the Peanuts gang.
A Charlie Brown Christmas contains examples of:
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: The Trope Namer, of sorts. (The other half would be the actual aluminum Christmas trees themselves.)
- Ass in a Lion Skin: Snoopy is tapped to perform the parts of all the animals in the Christmas play, including a sheep, a cow, and a penguin. (He gratuitously adds a vulture and, yes, a lion.)
- As the Good Book Says...: Linus' short sermon is a direct quote from Luke 2:8-14.
- Beautiful All Along: The tree. See Needs More Love below.
- Bootstrapped Theme: The song from the dance sequence, titled "Linus and Lucy", is often considered the Peanuts theme song.
- Butt Monkey: The special starts off with Charlie Brown completely ignored by his friends in terms of Christmas joy.
- Christmas Episode: Interestingly, there was no Peanuts animated series before this, so the show began with a Christmas episode.
- Christmas Rushed
- Crowd Song: The impromptu "ooooooooo" version of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" after the tree's transformation, followed by the real thing when Charlie Brown shows up.
- Dawson Casting: Averted. Melendez insisted that there be no adults doing kids' voices - as was and generally still is the staple of animation, and only one child actor was a professional (Peter Robbins, who was Charlie Brown.)
- Demoted to Extra: Shermy, a major character in the early days of the newspaper strip, has one line in the whole special, reflecting the increasing rarity of Schulz's use of him in the strip (he made his last appearance four years later).
- Does Not Understand Sarcasm/Insult Backfire:
Charlie Brown: Thanks for the Christmas card you sent me, Violet.
Violet: I didn't send you a Christmas card, Charlie Brown.
Charlie Brown: Don't you know sarcasm when you hear it?
- Dramatic Spotlight: Linus asks for one of these for his True Meaning of Christmas speech (seen in the page image for the latter).
- Edited for Syndication: For most of its run on CBS, as well as its first VHS release, the scene of the kids throwing snowballs at the can on the fence was cut out. It was restored for its second VHS release and was reinstated in network broadcasts in 1997 (with the can redesigned). However, the shot of Snoopy tossing Linus at a billboard for Coca Cola (the special's original sponsor) is now lost.
- The original three airings also contained a sponsor tag at the end for Coca-Cola, which explains why later airings have the chorus fading out early.
- Enemy to All Living Things: Charlie Brown thinks he's this.
Charlie Brown: "I've killed it. AUGHH! Everything I touch gets ruined!"
- Everybody Do the Endless Loop: The "dancing" scene, which is also one of the most-parodied scenes from the special.
- Kicked Upstairs: It's implied Charlie Brown is the director of the Christmas play because no one trusts him in any meaningful role.
- Long Runners: It's only one special, but considering how long it's been on TV? It definitely counts.
- Long Speech Tea Time: Charlie Brown's long speech to his actors finishes up by revealing that everyone's gone off to dance on the stage again.
Charlie Brown: "Am I right? I said, am I right?"
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Christmas time is here... Happiness and cheer..." And yet the song sounds so sad...
- Well, more wistful than sad - kind of like 'White Christmas'.
- Magnum Opus Dissonance / And You Thought It Would Fail : Nobody behind the project thought it was any good when they finished; Lee Mendelson and the rest of the team felt they "ruined Charlie Brown" when they looked at the final cut before it aired.
- Mood Whiplash: The scene goes from Charlie Brown being mocked, berated, and jeered and without even pausing to take a breath dives into Linus reciting a verse from the Bible that shames everyone there into realizing the True Meaning of Christmas.
- Needs More Love: An In-Universe example comes from the tree, which turned out to be Beautiful All Along when given said love.
- Off-Model: This special was produced cheaply and quickly; the animation suffered as a result. Look for things like, say, one kid in the background suddenly popping in front of Linus' head for one frame.
- In another example, the order of the words changes twice on Lucy's psychiatric help stand in the course of two minutes.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Charlie Brown, as director of the Christmas play, tries to be this but it's quickly made apparent that he has absolutely no control over anything.
- The Speechless: Snoopy may be a dog who can't talk, but he seems to be treated as good as human by the rest of the cast. Especially here.
- True Meaning of Christmas: Charlie Brown longs to find this, and Linus ultimately delivers courtesy of the Gospel of Luke.
- Someone Has to Do It: The production's team's mentality was "If we don't do it, who will?"
- Tsundere: Even Lucy gets some sweetness, and it's not just toward Schroeder...
- Xenophone: Schroeder's toy piano, on which he can mimic not only a grand piano, but even a pipe organ.
- Ironically, this special has the only moment it ever sounds like a toy piano in any of the animated specials. He even flubs one of the notes.
"...That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."