It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown(Paramount Home Entertainment, 9.12.2006)
In the sixties, Peanuts TV programs really deserved to be called specials. When you're a child, they perfectly capture the spirit of each holiday and even start to define those holidays after a while. The great surprise isn't that these specials hold up so well after all these years, it's that they actually become richer and more poetic over time, as we mature and start to find new layers of meaning. Charles Schulz didn't believe in speaking down to children and, as a result, his work also speaks to adults.
For my money, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is the second best Peanuts special after A Charlie Brown Christmas, the program that started it all. Full of character, heart, and style, these early Peanuts specials are distinguished by Charles Schulz's idiosyncratic writing style, lively jazz scores by the great Vince Guaraldi, perfectly realized voice work, and a visual style that -- with its beautifully flawed, handmade quality -- approximates something a child might create (if he or she had a command of animation, of course). Companies like Pixar have made incredible strides in digital animation over the last decade, but the truth is, their films look like they were made by computers. The early Peanuts specials were clearly made by humans and that personal touch was central to their appeal.
The Great Pumpkin doesn't have quite the same emotional resonance as A Charlie Brown Christmas, but it's more visually rich -- those fall colors really make a difference -- and it has the same aversion to dishonesty and fantasy that distinguished all the best Peanuts specials. Linus spends the whole program waiting for the Great Pumpkin (Halloween's equivalent of Santa Claus) to visit his pumpkin patch. Accustomed to the conventions of today's popular children's entertainment, you may expect the Great Pumpkin to make a glorious last minute arrival but, invoking Samuel Beckett's "Waiting For Godot," Charles Schulz offers no such payoff.
Schulz wanted this special to be about something bigger than unrealistic wish fulfillment. It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is really about reconciling disappointment and the childhood sense of possibility that could inspire a child to skip Halloween and wait for a mythical figure to visit, even if every piece of logic and reason suggests that he doesn't exist. Schulz seems to respect this gamble because it's an act of imagination and individuality, not a predictable act of greed or conformity (most of the other kids go trick-or-treating in identical ghost costumes, though each of their individual identities find ways to emerge). That kind of hope and optimism is important, even if it is rarely rewarded.
This disc was originally released in 2000, but Paramount has re-released and re-promoted it in conjunction with Halloween 2006. If you picked up the earlier version, there's no need to buy it again, as this is the exact same disc. Like that earlier disc, the only feature here is an additional Peanuts special, entitled You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown. This special reunites most of the key players from the earlier Peanuts specials -- and the Great Pumpkin plays an important role in the election -- but by 1972, these programs had already started to lose some of their luster. Schulz's writing was less fresh and more cynical, the animation had become more polished but less artistic, and the voice work didn't have the eccentric charm it once had. You're Not Elected is still a treat to watch, but it isn't quite the treat that the Peanuts specials were in their mid-'60s prime. -- Jonathan Doyle