Combustible Celluloid
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With: (voices) Peter Robbins, Chris Shea, Tracy Stratford, Kathy Steinberg, Bill Melendez, Chris Doran, Karen Mendelson, Geoffrey Orstein, Sally Dryer, Anne Altieri
Written by: Charles M. Schulz
Directed by: Bill Melendez
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 25
Date: 12/09/1965

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Little Tree

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Arguably the greatest TV Christmas special of all time, Bill Melendez and Charles Schultz's A Charlie Brown Christmas -- which first aired on CBS on December 9, 1965 -- was not like other Christmas specials. Rather than telling a story about Santa Claus or about getting the perfect gift, it was about how Christmas can be kind of a bummer sometimes, and that, yes, it's awfully commercial, but if we come together and care just a little bit, small miracles can happen.

Schultz's teleplay is a thing of near-perfection, with insightful gags as well as moments so beautiful they can choke you up. Snoopy enters a decorating contest in which he can "find the true meaning of Christmas! Win prizes and money!" Sally asks for "tens and twenties" on her wish list. And Lucy moans that she never gets what she really wants for Christmas ("real estate"). But when Linus tells Charlie Brown about the true meaning of Christmas, and the gang rallies to fix up his poor little tree (a real one, as opposed to shiny aluminum ones), it puts everything right again.

The writing, astoundingly, contains many references that only older, savvier viewers might get, but it's still enchanting for small children. The voice work by actual kids sounds untrained, but also unforced. They are just right. The animation was clearly low-budget, but is charming nonetheless. Best of all, whoever thought to hire the Vince Guaraldi Trio for the unconventional score -- Christmas music crossed with jazz -- was a genius. The music goes a long way to warm hearts and has since become a classic all by itself. (The album has sold more than 3 million copies to date.) Hearing it each season brings me back to being a kid again.

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