Monday, December 11, 2017
TV and Media

Why 'It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown' is the greatest 'Peanuts' visual achievement

A Charlie Brown Christmas may have been the debut for Peanuts characters on television, but it was the follow-up special, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which premiered 50 years ago this month, that stands as the breakaway visual achievement.

Great Pumpkin, which airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday on ABC, represented an open and inviting canvas for legendary animator Bill Melendez, who worked on classic Disney films and Looney Tunes shorts before coming to the world of Peanuts.

Charles M. Schulz's beloved strip, which debuted in 1950, didn't indulge in extended fantastical panels in those early years. But come the next decade, Snoopy was ready to go airborne — his World War I flying ace first appeared in an October 1965 strip — and Melendez was an ideal collaborator to elevate Schulz's imagination on the screen.

Taking Schulz's wish list as a challenge, Melendez created the moments of Snoopy flying his doghouse, resulting in "one of the most memorable animated scenes ever," Emmy-winning Peanuts executive producer Lee Mendelson tells the Washington Post, noting that the iconic scene even spawned a postage stamp.

(Last year's CG-animated The Peanuts Movie even features eye-popping flying scenes that pay homage to Snoopy's fantasies of soaring atop a doghouse strafed by the Red Baron.)

The previous December, A Charlie Brown Christmas had been a sprint to the production finish, with CBS executives doubting the special's pacing and musical sequences right up to airtime — before roughly half of all American TV sets in use tuned in to Linus and Lucy and the gang on that debut holiday night.

The following year, buoyed by their first success, Schulz, Melendez and Mendelson hashed out the new special's plot quickly — including Linus's late-night vigil as he waits for the Great Pumpkin, even as others question where he places his faith. (Linus had delivered the iconic "meaning of Christmas" speech in the first special, quoting from Luke.)

Their swift narrative certainty for Great Pumpkin freed Melendez (who also voiced Snoopy) and his crew — including gifted animator Bill Littlejohn — to create stunning watercolor skies and rich autumn hues that provide every scene with its own mood, apart from the characters. Melendez brilliantly painted both motion and emotion.

"It is by far the most colorful of the shows," Mendelson says, "as Bill and his team captured the vibrancy of the fall season."

And the camera, often so static in A Charlie Brown Christmas, zooms in for facial close-ups in the follow-up that provide the viewer with a poignant intimacy.

"Because of this, I think we as viewers are right there in the pumpkin patch with Linus and Sally," the Bay Area-based Mendelson says, "as she berates him for failing to produce the Great Pumpkin."

Mendelson also cites Melendez's influence in the trick-or-treat scenes, as poor Charlie Brown endures a stone-cold heartless Halloween.

"When Charles Schulz said Charlie Brown should get a rock at the first house in his treat bag, Bill suggested it be done three times at three houses," Mendelson recounts. "I mildly objected that is was too cruel, but I was vetoed, fortunately, as it is something that people still quote today." ("I got a rock," indeed.)

Melendez shines most, though, beneath Linus' bewitchingly liquid-violet skies and Snoopy's clouds of fantastical peril, as autumnal tints pop from the trees and leaves.

"Of the 50 prime-time specials we created with Charles Schulz," Mendelson says, "I believe It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is Bill Melendez's animation masterpiece."

Comments

Tuesday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYCollege basketballMississippi State vs. Cincinnati7 p.m.ESPN2Fordham at Rutgers7 p.m.ESPNUSt. Peter’s at Seton Hall7 p.m.FS1Michigan at Texas9 p.m.ESPN2Albany at Memphis9 p.m.ESPNUNBALakers at Knicks7 p.m.ESPN76ers at Timberwolves9:30 p.m.ESPNNH...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
What to watch this week: New season of ‘The Librarians,’ Gwen Stefani’s Christmas special

What to watch this week: New season of ‘The Librarians,’ Gwen Stefani’s Christmas special

MondaySEASON FINALE: The Gifted, 9 p.m., Fox: The team at Mutant HQ is divided on what to do next after Jace is forced to hand over something valuable to Dr. Campbell.Disney's Fairytale Weddings: Holiday Magic, 8 p.m., Freeform: A behind-the-scenes l...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Monday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYCollege basketballBryant at Louisville7 p.m.ESPNUChicago State at Northwestern7 p.m.FS1Drake at Minnesota8 p.m.Big TenAlabama A&M at DePaul9 p.m.FS1NBAHeat at Grizzlies8 p.m.Fox SunPelicans at Rockets8 p.m.NBARaptors at Clippers10:30 p.m.NBANFLP...
Published: 12/10/17

Sunday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYCollege basketballTulane vs. Florida StatenoonESPNU; 1010-AMLa Salle at Villanova1 p.m.FS1Women: Marshall at Florida1 p.m.SECArizona State at Kansas2 p.m.ESPNWomen: Texas at Tennessee3 p.m.ESPN2Women: SE Louisiana at TCU3 p.m.Fox SunSouthern at ...
Published: 12/09/17

Saturday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYBoxingSuper featherweights: Lomachenko vs. Rigondeaux9 p.m.ESPNSuper featherweights: Roman vs. Salido10:30 p.m.HBOCollege basketballDuke at Boston CollegenoonESPNUCLA at MichigannoonCBSMonmouth at KentuckynoonESPNUCoastal Carolina at South Carol...
Published: 12/08/17
This week’s pop culture winners and losers: Tonya Harding edition

This week’s pop culture winners and losers: Tonya Harding edition

WINNERS: Tonya Harding The once disgraced Olympic figure skater is no longer on thin ice in the pop culture world. Harding joined Margot Robbie, who is playing her in the upcoming film I, Tonya, on the red carpet this week. While Harding pleaded g...
Published: 12/08/17

Thursday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYCollege basketballValparaiso at Purdue6:30 p.m.FS1Ohio at Maryland7 p.m.Big TenIowa at Iowa State8 p.m.ESPN2Howard at Georgetown8:30 p.m.FS1College footballAwards show7 p.m.ESPNGolfLadies European: Dubai Masters4:30 a.m.GolfPGA Europe: Australia...
Published: 12/06/17
Mahaffey Theater cancels Garrison Keillor performance after sexual misconduct allegations

Mahaffey Theater cancels Garrison Keillor performance after sexual misconduct allegations

The Mahaffey Theater has canceled an upcoming performance by Garrison Keillor in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct against the former host of A Prairie Home Companion.Keillor was to perform in St. Petersburg on Feb. 5, but the show's promo...
Published: 12/06/17
Review: History’s ‘Knightfall’ will please fans of epic history, popular culture

Review: History’s ‘Knightfall’ will please fans of epic history, popular culture

Sometimes a Templar Knight dies in your field and you have to return his master sword to the temple in Paris, because God's kingdom depends on it.All that happens to Parsifal (Bobby Shofield) in the first episode of History's new period drama Knightf...
Published: 12/06/17
36 period dramas you can stream right now on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu

36 period dramas you can stream right now on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu

If you've loved period dramas for any length of time, you probably feel like you've seen them all. Not that there's a shortage of shows dramatizing any and everything from the 1600s to the '60s. But sometimes you've seen all Masterpiece and BBC curr...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17