Welcome to the Rotoscopers’ Twelve Days of Christmas!Every day until Christmas Eve, we’ll be taking a look at a holiday-themed piece of animation. Check back each day for a new review!
A Charlie Brown Christmas is perhaps one of the most well-known animated Christmas movies ever. Something about a small, balding child struggling to grasp the importance of a holiday has become deeply ingrained into the subconscious of our society. Even those who have never seen the movie (some of my own woefully sheltered friends included) can look at the scraggliest of trees and claim it to be a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
How did this movie, with its scratchy animation and mere 25-minute runtime become so popular that it is still a Christmas ritual 50 years after it was originally aired?
Originally, Charles Schulz had no interest in adapting the Peanuts gang for animation, until he allowed Charlie Brown to be featured in a Ford Motors commercial (as Ford was his car of his choice). Bill Melendez animated the characters, working closely with Schulz to keep the art simple, and not using exaggerated movements that Schulz disliked in films such as Bambi and Dumbo. When Lee Mendelson suggested turning the strips into a short, Schulz agreed – but only if Melendez was enlisted.
The road to getting the short made was rocky. Despite the popularity of the comic strips, no network was interested in producing them into a film. In the end, the Coca-Cola Company came to the rescue, wanting a holiday special to air for advertising purposes (ironic, right?).
In the end, the trio ended up only getting $76,000 and six months for production. When Coke checked in on the project in its half completed state, they almost cancelled the entire project and even CBS thought the short was a disaster due to its slow nature. There was no laugh track (something that was a staple in the 1960’s) and the animation was rough (even Schulz wasn’t particularly fond of it). There were continuity errors, Schulz hated the jazz music, Charlie Brown’s head was difficult to animate, and almost none of the voice actors were trained. In short, it was a nightmare to produce.
However, on December 9, 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas aired and half of the population who owned a television ended up watching (roughly 15 million people) making it exceedingly successful right away.
These flaws help to make the special as memorable as it is.
The animation is not perfect, and yet it somehow propagates the message of the short; there are some things more important than consumerism. There is something valuable and sweet about simplicity.
The little lisps and stutters of the untrained children help to make each character sweeter and more endearing. Some of the children couldn’t even read their scripts, so Melendez would have to recite the lines to them. Their voices come across all the more real and raw for it.
Schulz may have disliked the jazz, but Vince Guaraldi’s tunes have become classics on their own, gently and whimsically reminding listeners of the Christmas spirit. Linus and Lucy has absolutely no words, yet the tune is still equated with Christmas joy.
In the end, though, I think the message of the short really hits home with people. There are so few movies willing to unabashedly point out problems in our society and remind people of the true meaning of Christmas: family, faith, and love. Some may call this preachy, but I think that it is a refreshing message. Even 50 years later, consumerism is still a main part of the holiday. Sure, it’s not all bad. Seeing every store decked out in Christmas attire is kind of fun and helps to get one into the Christmas mindset. However, there is a lot to be said for remembering the quieter, gentler side of the holiday. Linus’ little speech lasts only about a minute, but it still resonates with people and allows us to all have a moment of pause and reflection in a world so fast-paced and flashy.
A Charlie Brown Christmas is by no means a perfect special, but somehow the imperfections make it perfect for what it needed to be. Out of all of the Christmas films to date, it’s the “Charlie Browniest,” and that’s all it needs to be to continue resonating with audiences for another 50 years.
Be sure to catch all the entries thus far in our 12 Days of Christmas Celebration:
Alissa is a student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, studying Media Arts & Technology. Her hometown is in the Middle-of-Nowhere, NY, where winter is approximately 6 months of the year. She is extremely nerdy, and loves all things animated, literary, or Harry Potter related. Her older sister spawned her love of animation by dragging her downstairs at 2 a.m. every morning and making her watch various films until their parents took them back to bed. Some of her all-time favorite films include Mulan, The LEGO Movie, Up, Tangled, and The Lion King. She also collects old Peanuts comic strips, and spends her free time reading, writing for the Rotoscopers, and working a variety of jobs. You can follow Alissa on Instagram and Twitter: @ThisAlissa. See her work here.