Wednesday, 31 October 2018

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown


The Beagle Has Landed

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
USA 1966
Directed by Bill Melendez
Watched on YouTube

I rarely watch anything on YouTube, it has to be said. I much prefer owning the stuff I watch rather than streaming or renting from a source which can just turn around and deny me the ability to watch what I want, when I want it any time it likes. However, I thought I’d make an exception this year because Varese Sarabande has just reminded me this gem of a cartoon exists by releasing the first CD issue of the soundtrack. Now, it has to be said, I did try and order a UK DVD or Blu Ray of It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, only to find that this thing seems to be totally out of print over here. Now normally in that situation I would just order the US edition but, alas, I knew that if I’d gone down that route then it was probable I wouldn’t even receive it until after Halloween this year... which kinda defeats the object. This is definitely a seasonal TV special and soundtrack and playing it past 31st October just seems like really bad luck, to me.

I remember that I never saw this one as a kid. Halloween, it has to be said, was not something that children in the UK in the 1970s or before... or even the 1980s for that matter... really participated in or knew much about. Trick or Treating was not a thing over here until maybe the mid to late 1990s and the way it’s mutated into some kind of aggressive well as a totally cynical exercise in merchandising scary, seasonally appropriate merchandise to the kids and their financially challenged parents... is probably not something I should go on about at length here.

So yes, I was certainly aware of Halloween as a kid from only one source... The Observer magazine that got delivered to my parent’s door every Sunday. This used to run the Peanuts strip in colour near the back and, every October, you’d get the odd Halloween installment published. That was my only exposure to Halloween, not to mention The Great Pumpkin and so the bizarre culture shock I experienced when, in later years, I saw Halloween rise in popularity over here, spreading like a virulent celebration of destructive anarchy, made me wonder if our country had become just another state of the USA. I used to watch and love the odd Charlie Brown specials on TV as a kid (and later) as did everybody but I don’t know if this one even got shown on UK TV, truth be told. According to the IMDB it was only ever broadcast in the US and in Finland for some strange reason so... maybe it really never aired over here.

Anyway, I found myself with a spare half an hour for lunch and I found a few versions of this on YouTube. A couple were questionable in quality but I did quickly find an HD version and away I went.

It’s a little crude in style but most of those early Peanuts cartoons were and they were no worse for it. They’ve always been about the little pearls of wisdom that Charles M. Schulz used to inject into his strip and all of the ones I’ve seen (although I’ve seen nowhere near all of them) are primarily about promoting strong messages of right versus wrong. They are sometimes quite surreal (another reason to like them) and certainly very cynical at times but they always have a lot of heart in them and I suspect that’s why they’re so well loved around the world.

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown tells the short story of what happens when the Peanuts gang go trick or treating while Linus and Sally (who has a crush on Linus, if you recall), spend all night in the ‘most sincere’ Pumpkin Patch that Linus can find, fruitlessly awaiting the appearance of this peculiar figment of Linus’ imagination. There’s not much to write home about in this one, it has to be said but... it is a slice of pleasant, heart warming Charlie Brown goodness once again and, in terms of the animated specials, it also has a couple of firsts.

For example, this is the first time an animation had been done of Charlie Brown attempting to kick a football and landing on his back after Lucy pulls it away from him. Even in this first animated manifestation, though, it’s already being treated by the characters as a running joke.

The other famous first here is that this is the first time we get to see the animated Snoopy playing around as the World War One flying ace, in pursuit of the Red Baron. Most of the classic elements of those flights of canine fancy are in place here already such as, even when he’s doing a loop the loop, you never see anything other than the top of his dog kennel standing in for his Sopwith Camel and both the flying sequence and his progress returning home behind enemy lines is done with a deft touch which carefully rides the line between Snoopy’s imagination and what’s happening in the real world. The only thing which seems a little false here is that instead of Snoopy’s inner voice narrating his adventures... you never get to hear Snoopy’s thoughts in the cartoons... we instead have the surrogate voice of Charlie Brown narrating on the soundtrack. This almost but, doesn’t quite, work and it seems a bit false. I think this was something they dropped in later shows but I’d need to watch more of them to find out how quickly this element was ditched from the franchise.

The whole show is, of course, scored by the late, great Vince Guaraldi and this is always one of the best reasons to watch the early, classic Peanuts shows. This one has some nice variations on his famous Linus And Lucy theme going through it too which, frankly, I'm really looking forward to hearing when I can get around to giving the new CD a spin. It's good jazz scoring from a truly remarkable composer.

And that’s me more or less done with It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown which, frankly, any fan of the Peanuts gang will surely love. I say more or less because there’s a little epilogue to my review here. When the end credits were rolling I noticed that the cartoon was released in 1966, which rang a little alarm bell in my head. I remembered that a couple of years ago I bought a DVD called The Peanuts 1960s Collection, which is also now sadly out of print and which I haven't had a chance to watch yet. When I looked at the box when I got home I realised that It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was on this all along. So I really needn’t have spent so much time and energy trying to get hold of this one and neither did I need to resort to YouTube to watch it. Sometimes the things you want are right on the end of your nose so, the moral to take away from this story, I think, is this. Whatever you do, don’t get as old as me... it’s no fun.

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