Netflix this: ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’

Halloween is probably my favorite holiday.  That’s not saying that every Halloween has been whiz-bang fun.  But I love dressing up, I loved the (not really) scariness of ghosts and black cats and bats and witches.  I loved Halloween as a kid (although growing up in Northern Canada meant trick-or-treating in sub-zero weather and a good 8-12 inches of snow in the ground, plus having to wear your snow suit under your costume).  Now, as an adult, I love seeing how excited my niece and nephew get about the holiday.

I recently watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown with my nephew.  He liked it, although near the end when Linus mistakes Snoopy for the Great Pumpkin he got a little freaked out and wanted me to turn it off.  He’s only four, so we can only hope that with subsequent annual viewings he’ll face his discomfort with a Santa figure in a Halloween special.  (It may be a while until he graduates to The Nightmare Before Christmas.)

It’s been a while since I myself had seen it.  As an adult, I obviously see it differently than I did as a kid, but that it also in part because the way I see the Peanuts comic strip has changed.  When I was young I absolutely loved Charles Schulz’s strip, but as I grew up my tastes became more refined and I embraced Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side.  As an adult I look at the comics page in the newspaper and wonder why today’s comics are not funny at all.  Has my sense of humor changed so radically since I was a kid (yes), or have comics just never really been that funny to begin with (YES)?

I feared that watching The Great Pumpkin with an older set of eyes would result in disappointment.  I am happy to report that the special still retains a sense of wonder and innocence.  After all, Peanuts itself is seeing childhood through an older set of eyes, and while The Great Pumpkin is not really funny, there’s a magic to it that invokes those same feelings I had about Halloween as I did as a kid.

What’s it about? Linus (voiced by Chris Shea) is anxious for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin, the aforementioned Santa Claus of Halloween.  None of his friends nor his sister Lucy (Sally Dryer) believe in the Great Pumpkin and think Linus is stupid for doing so.  Instead of going trick or treating with the neighborhood kids, he waits in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin to bring presents and peace and goodwill to all men.

Meanwhile, Snoopy as the World War I Flying Ace’s plane/dog house is shot down over France.  Stranded in enemy territory, Snoopy must make it to safety without being caught by the Germans.  (This makes much more sense when you’re watching it.)

What’s good about it? I have always been a fan of the design and animation of the Charlie Brown specials.  The animation itself isn’t perfect–this, like A Charlie Brown Christmas, has some choppy editing–but that’s why it’s so appealing.  Unlike the crisp and luscious style of Sleeping Beauty (which I recently reviewed), The Great Pumpkin is hand-made and  sloppy, but no less lovingly crafted.  And at a running time of about 25 minutes, The Great Pumpkin knows not to overstay its welcome.

What’s bad about it? The cruelty of the other children towards Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins) would leave massive emotional and psychological scarring if he was a real kid.

Perfect for: Kids and grown-up kids.

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