Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A Charlie Brown Christmas

USAToday has a frontpage story on a Charlie Brown Christmas and how it almost didn't air.

Looking back 40 years it is difficult to remember the position Peanuts had in contemporary culture. The idea of kids having problems and acting like adults was new and fresh. No one else was doing anything like it.

Peanuts is partly a victim of its own success. It had so much influence on other comic strips and media that we forget how groundbreaking it was. Even so, it was still the best of its breed right up through the final strip.

40 years later this is still one of only four original, lasting Christmas stories. Two of them are endlessly remade - A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life. The other two, Charlie Brown and Christmas Story, are lightning-in-a-bottle stories that would fail if they were remade.

It's ironic that both Charlie Brown and Christmas story are children's stories but they are about opposite ends of Christmas. Charlie Brown is looking for meaning in Christmas and finds religion. Ralphie is just after presents. What makes these two stories so memorable is their unforced earnestness.

Charlie Brown could have come across as preaching but it does not. Christmas Story could have been boring or silly. There have been dozens of Peanuts specials and movies and other adaptations of Jean Sheperd's works but, outside of the Peanuts Halloween show, none of them worked as well.

note 1: That 70s Show did a subtle takeoff of a Charlie Brown Christmas with Eric directing the church Christmas pageant. The same episode also inserted Kelso into a claymation Christmas special.

note 2: Darren McGavin who played Ralphie's father also stared in Nightstalker. Not many actors can boast that they were in two so dissimilar cult favorites.

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