'It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown' (1966)/Grade: A+
No Halloween TV special has ever equaled the staying power which It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966) holds for me. It is about as quintessentially Peanuts as you can get, with cheap but vividly stylized animation, a great sense of humor, and a tightly-woven series of silly plot lines that, when examined just a tad further, reveal something kind of profound about human nature. It's a delightful experience.
What's the Premise?
For those unfamiliar (which, if you are, what're you doing with your life?), the premise centers around Linus Van Pelt (voiced by Christopher Shea) as he prepares for the arrival of a being known as The Great Pumpkin, who supposedly picks the most sincere-looking pumpkin patch every Halloween, and brings toys to the all the good little children. To no one's surprise, Charlie Brown's (voiced by Peter Robbins) little sister Sally (voiced by Cathy Steinberg) joins Linus, blindly following the word of her crush.
Meanwhile, Charlie Brown and his friends trick-or-treat throughout the neighborhood, and Snoopy (voiced by Bill Melendez) dons his WWI flying ace persona to hopefully defeat the Red Baron.
Why Does It Work So Well?
All of this delivers very much what you'd expect in a Peanuts special. Charlie Brown haplessly chugs along through Halloween night, despite every house giving him rocks instead of candy. Snoopy's self-serious mannerisms and fantasies are rather cute and full of personality. This is aided by how the artwork reflects Snoopy's environment as an imagined war-torn landscape, which adds to the comedic value. Lucy is about as mean-spirited and cruel as ever. This leads to my favorite joke in any of the Peanuts specials, when she goes to bob for apples and one kid says, "Yeah, Lucy, you should be good at this, you've got the perfect mouth for it." Ouch.
Where this has the most impact for me now as an adult, versus as a kid when I would watch it on VHS, is how it meditates on the concept of belief in holiday mascots. Much like the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus, the Great Pumpkin is an entity Linus pours so much belief into, to where he can't and won't acknowledge that he doesn't actually exist. It's just like real kids when it comes to the aforementioned characters. It's a credit to the simplicity of Charles M. Schulz's writing that said theme comes across so strongly.
The cherry on top of all of this is how much the animation conveys the spirit of Halloween. From the Jack-O-Lanterns in people's houses, to the costumes, to the pumpkin patch itself, this gets the aesthetic of the holiday down pat.
Quite simply, It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is pure perfection. There's not a thing to dislike about it. It delivers what you expect from an adventure with these characters, with just a touch of profundity at the center. If you haven't checked this out already, now's the time to add a new annual Halloween tradition.