This is the third in a series of posts, The Twelve Days of Christmas Movies. Each one will review/talk about a different Christmassy film and the whole thing spans 12 days – one film per day. You can read the original post about it (which also lists all 12 days of movies) here.
Today’s film, A Charlie Brown Christmas, was the shortest yet in this series of Christmas movies, being only about 30 minutes long. It turns out it’s actually only a Peanuts TV special, not a fully-fledged movie. Nonetheless, it packs a full storyline and plenty of Christmas spirit into its shorter runtime.
A Charlie Brown Christmas stars the usual characters of the Peanuts comic strips and television episodes, including the eponymous protagonist, Charlie Brown. The film begins by showing Charlie Brown (it’s illegal to refer to him by anything but his full name) and his friends outside in the snow, doing Christmassy things like ice-skating, writing letters to Santa, and decorating their – or at least Snoopy’s – kennels with lights and baubles. Charlie Brown, however, is not happy. He explains to one of his friends, Linus, that he doesn’t feel like he’s supposed to, and that he feels depressed rather than cheery. As he goes around and sees all of his friends succumbing to the “commercialism” of Christmas, he decides that the reason behind his unhappiness is that this superficial Christmas spirit is overwhelming the true meaning of Christmas – whatever that is.
Unlike either Home Alone or Die Hard, the previous two films in this series of blog posts, A Charlie Brown Christmas is a calm experience to watch. It doesn’t contain much action, in the form of fighting (Die Hard), pranks (Home Alone), or any other kind of violence or excitement. The film starts slowly and consists largely of many scenes of characters just talking to each other or milling about. There is some humour, but this is mostly in the form of dialogue, rather than slapstick. None of this is an issue, of course; it’s just different. My main issue with the film wasn’t the fact that it was slow – rather, it was the fact that I wasn’t very keen on the conclusion.
Obviously the conclusion of a film isn’t the only part that matters – there’s the beginning and middle, for two things – but it is the section of it that will likely stay with you the most immediately after watching it. Developing a satisfactory ending for a cartoon short isn’t easy, either. Nonetheless, the ending of A Charlie Brown Christmas left me feeling a bit flat about the rest of the movie.
WARNING: The following paragraph contains major spoilers for the film. If this bothers you, I’d recommend skipping it and starting again on the next paragraph.
In A Charlie Brown Christmas, like in Home Alone, we get the sense that the protagonist isn’t really a character that is very well-liked by others in the movie. As Charlie Brown says in the film: “I know nobody likes me. Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?”. So we feel somewhat sorry for Charlie Brown when the film starts, but even more so when he is asked to direct the children’s Christmas play. When many of the children learn that he is going to be directing it, their reaction is a negative one. Furthermore, when Charlie Brown tries to introduce more proper Christmas spirit into the play, his friends accuse him of not doing anything right. This whole dislike and criticism of Charlie Brown comes to a head when he picks out a tiny, weak, wooden tree for the play, as opposed to the towering aluminium one he was asked to get. After being berated for this action, Charlie Brown asks out loud what the true spirit of Christmas is. Linus answers this with an extended monologue about the birth of Jesus Christ, good will towards men, and all that sort of thing. Following this, Charlie Brown decides to take his tree away and try and look after it himself. Unfortunately, he becomes exasperated with his inability to decorate it and walks off. His friends have followed him, though, and, upon finding the undecorated tree, dress it up themselves. When Charlie Brown comes back, he finds a jazzed-up tree and a bunch of apologetic friends. They then all gather as a group in the spirit of true Christmas and sing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing together.
That’s where the film ends. It’s somewhat abrupt, though part of that can be forgiven due to the movie’s own brevity. But I still wasn’t completely happy with the ending of A Charlie Brown Christmas. For one thing, it wasn’t really explained much. This could have been to leave the viewer some room to decide on their own, personally “true” meaning of Christmas – but the obviously religious overtones of the film make this difficult in itself. That’s the other issue I had with this film – and I acknowledge the fact that I am incredibly biased in this respect – that it’s main message was that little bit too religious. Since watching Home Alone a few days ago, I basically resolved that including the Christianity aspect of Christmas in films might not be an altogether unpleasant thing – in fact, done well, it can even add some depth to the movie. I especially don’t have any issue with emphasising this side of the “true” meaning of Christmas if it comes attached to famous Christian values such as charity, generosity, and generally being kind to people at this time of year. But in A Charlie Brown Christmas, the true meaning of Christmas was presented as being almost entirely based in the birth of Christ, with not much else backing it. It also didn’t explain enough of why the birth of Christ and Christmas is important beyond the generic reasoning of “just because”. Like I said, I don’t think that the religious part of Christmas is a bad thing – it is where the holiday originated, after all – but A Charlie Brown Christmas didn’t manage to portray it very well, at least in my opinion.
But I didn’t start this review wanting to denigrate A Charlie Brown Christmas. Despite the fact that what I have written above demonstrates that the ending is the part of a film that stays with you most prominently immediately after watching it, it doesn’t completely erase the positive bits of the film. The movie was still a Peanuts film, of course, and so it came along with all the charm and amusing characters of Charles M. Schulz’s creation. I genuinely liked the humour and dialogue in A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the animation is cute as always. Even though the end of the film wasn’t as good as I would have liked it to be, the rest of the film was enjoyable and an overall pleasure to watch. You might approve of the “put the Christ back in Christmas” message of the movie and the way it was handled, in which case you’ll probably enjoy it more than people like me, who weren’t so keen, would. Still, even if you don’t expect to be overly fond of this theme in A Charlie Brown Christmas, I would still recommend watching it. It’s only half an hour long, after all, and there are much worse ways you could spend that time than watching this Peanuts Christmas special.
Overall rating: 7/10
Christmassy-ness rating: 9/10 (even disregarding the Christianity-based theme, it is a very Christmassy film)
Mary’s parental guidance rating: U (or G in America)
Tomorrow’s film: Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer