Behind the Scenes of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”
By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette
Yes We Can
For 55 years, Linus Van Pelt has been sitting in a pumpkin patch waiting for the arrival of “The Great Pumpkin.”
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown remains on my annual holiday viewing list, a personal favorite since the Emmy-winning special premiered on Oct. 27, 1966 on CBS, a follow-up to 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. The special was directed/animated by Bill Melendez, and produced by Lee Mendelson.
While I missed nearly a good decade of its initial showings (due to not having been born yet), the special remains a part of my home’s October tradition.
The special starts with the Peanuts kids getting ready for Halloween. Linus, usually the level-headed and philosophical member of the group, is the only one excited for the arrival of “The Great Pumpkin,” a mystical being who rises from the most sincere of pumpkin patches to give toys to well-behaved children.
Hmmm… That sounds like a familiar red-suited fellow. Curiously, Linus also acknowledges the existence of Santa, so clearly the end of each year is the time to fill up the old toy box.
More curiously, the animated special is not the debut of the Great Pumpkin. Linus’s gourdly benefactor (but pumpkins are also a squash to add to the vegetable’s complex origins) debuted in the newspapers on Oct. 26, 1959, as part of Charles M. Schulz’s daily comic strip, and continued to be an annual running gag. No one’s ever seen what The Great Pumpkin looks like, though there have been hints and more than enough cases of mistaken identity.
(Editor’s note: You’re going to get more than an episode recap here, so let’s get into this background flow.)
Linus decides not to join the neighborhood kids in their annual trick or treating, much to a derision towards him usually reserved for Charlie Brown. Sally, Charlie Brown’s sister who has a crush on Linus, decides to also forego the candy hunt to join in the pumpkin spotting. Later comics would also depict Peppermint Patty, Marcie, and even Snoopy sitting in over the years.
There’s a a few mini stories going on throughout the special: Linus’ all-night sitting, the kids going door to door for candy (where Charlie Brown bizarrely gets handed only rocks – Seriously who are these adults in this neighborhood, and why are they like this?), and Snoopy’s surreal imaginary journey as a downed World War I fighter pilot scouring the French countryside for refuge, because… Snoopy.
Getting back to the whole “rock” thing, this animated event begat real-world implications. Concerned parents and kids would send bags and boxes of candy to the television stations and Schulz’s personal office so poor Charlie Brown could catch a break.
Eventually, all three storylines come together, and Snoopy’s flair for the dramatic collides with Linus’ beliefs. The result… doesn’t go as planned.
It should also be noted that Linus’ older sister Lucy, a character long-defined for her crabbiness and her frequent verbal barbs of the “Blockheads” around her actually shows a little bit of heart for her brother’s fantasies, making sure to get an extra piece of candy from each house, and eventually putting him to bed on that freezing now November night.
Has Linus learned anything from his experiences? Despite Charlie Brown’s own conciliatory advice, Linus proves to be a person who stays devoted to this particular belief as he does to his security blanket.
The success of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown ensured Peanuts animated specials would run every year from the 1960s to today. The special still holds up with its wit, social satire, and the watercolor styled backgrounds are still eye-catching. If you haven’t watched the special in a while, and haven’t viewed it this season, tonight’s the night. It still holds up.
For a little bit of extra trivia, the special marked the first (animated) time Lucy pulls the football away from Charlie Brown. Fall would never be the same again.
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