The Peanuts Movie comes out this weekend in theatres, an animated film that mixes CGI with Peanuts creator Charles Schulz’s distinctive minimalist art style and “shaky” linework. The Peanuts Movie is the latest in a long line of animated television specials and movies featuring Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus and the rest of the Peanuts gang. While the Peanuts gang was already popular when Schulz started working on the animated specials, the cartoons helped cement the comic strip characters as a permanent part of American culture. To celebrate the release of The Peanuts Movie, here’s five of our favorite Peanuts specials:
A Charlie Brown Christmas
An annual Christmas tradition celebrating its 50th consecutive year on TV, A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first Peanut TV special, focusing on Charlie Brown’s quest to rediscover the “true meaning of Christmas”. In spring 1965, Coca-Cola asked Schulz and TV producer Lee Mendelson to make a half hour Christmas cartoon featuring the Peanuts characters. Producers completed the special just days before its scheduled premiere, although most of the animators working on the show thought the cartoon would bomb with viewers.
Turns out they were dead wrong. TV viewers loved A Charlie Brown Christmas, which featured Charlie Brown struggling with the commercial and increasingly secular nature of the season. When Charlie Brown is tasked to produce a Christmas play, he’s dismayed by his friends’ celebration of the “wrong” parts of the holiday season. He picks up a scrawny Christmas tree to feature in his play, despite Lucy wanting a big, fake tree instead. While Charlie Brown initially gives up on the tree (and his friends), his reminder of what Christmas is all about inspires his friends to decorate the scrawny sapling and join Charlie Brown in singing a final Christmas song. The special has appeared on TV every year since 1965, with ABC (the current rights holder of the show) planning a 90 minute special to celebrate the show’s 50 anniversary this November.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
Another early Peanuts special, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown introduced viewers to the Great Pumpkin, a fictional being similar to Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny…only for Christmas. No one actually believed in the Great Pumpkin save for Linus, Charlie Brown’s best friend. Although he had no proof of the Great Pumpkin’s existence, Linus spent his Halloweens in a pumpkin patch waiting for the mystical creature’s arrival, instead of Trick or Treating like Charlie Brown and the rest of his friends. While Linus spends his evening waiting for the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’s trick or treating lands him only a bag full of rocks, inexplicably given to him by his neighbors instead of candy. After the special aired for the first time, viewers of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown sent the hapless character hundreds of boxes of candy, hoping to make up for his erstwhile Halloween haul. Like A Charlie Brown Christmas, It’s a Great Pumpkin continues to air annually, usually accompanied by You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown, a Peanuts special about the far less celebrated election season that occurs around Halloween each year.
Why, Charlie Brown, Why?
While most Peanuts specials focus on holiday themes or the whimsical perils of childhood, Why, Charlie Brown, Why? tackled a much more serious topic: cancer. In the special, Linus and Charlie Brown befriend Janice, a girl with leukemia. Linus, in particular, takes Janice’s diagnosis and her subsequent absences due to chemotherapy treatment hard, lashing out at his sister Lucy and a schoolyard bully when they mock the Janice’s disease. While much of the special is brooding and somber, Why, Charlie Brown, Why? ends on an upbeat note. Janice makes a full recovery and shows off her regrown hair (which she lost during chemo) to a delighted Linus.
Schulz made the special after a pediatric nurse asked him to make a Peanuts film for children struggling with disease. Schulz worked with the American Cancer Society to produce the film. While the special rarely appears on television due to its sad topic, many schools and hospitals use the film to teach children about dealing with life-threatening diseases. Ten years after the special aired, Schulz lost his own battle with colon cancer, one day before his final Peanuts strip appeared in newspapers.
You're a Good Sport, Charlie Brown
Like most other things, Charlie Brown never had much luck at sports. While he was the manager/captain of the local baseball team, his team rarely run, partially due his abysmal pitching skills. And although he was a decent football kicker, he rarely got the chance to show off his skills as his placeholder Lucy would always pull the football away at the last moment. However, in You’re A Good Sport, Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown finally got a taste of success. With the help of Linus, Charlie Brown enters a motocross race, purchasing a rundown bike with his savings to compete. Although he’s quickly knocked out of the race in a crash, he eventually returns wearing a pumpkin for a helmet (he lost his original helmet in the crash). As the other racers fall victim to mud traps, Charlie Brown’s slow, but reliable bike trudges past them, leading to him winning the race. Unfortunately, his victory is bittersweet, as the prize for winning are coupons for a free haircut, which Charlie Brown doesn’t need as he’s bald and his father is a barber. At least if Charlie Brown's other career aspirations don't work out, he could at least go into BMX racing.
It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown
Like everything else in his life, Charlie Brown’s romantic prospects are a self-destructive mess. For years, Charlie Brown pined over the Little Red-Haired Girl, but he could never muster the courage to ask her out on a date, or even talk to her. That all changed in the 1977 cartoon special It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown, where Charlie Brown is chosen to escort the Little Red-Haired Girl (whose name is revealed as Heather) to the Homecoming Dance. Unfortunately, Charlie Brown becomes a pariah after he blows the Homecoming football game (largely due to Lucy, who pulls the football out as he’s about to kick it several times). However, he shows up at the Homecoming Dance anyways, kisses the Little Red-Haired Girl on the cheek (it’s a school custom) and promptly blacks out. The next day, Linus tells Charlie Brown that he not only kissed the Red-Haired Girl, but also impressed everyone with his dance skills and danced with almost every girl in school. Charlie Brown might be a blockhead when he’s awake, but when’s he’s in a panicked trance, he seems to be quite the ladies’ man.