Angry, bruised clouds smeared across a sky filled with strange stars look down upon a bombed-out wasteland. A dog scrambles from one pile of rubble to another in the wreckage looking for a haven, while elsewhere, children flee from dark spirits pursuing them across a nightmare-scape. The world is empty of adults; the children are left to fend for themselves, forcing them to take on adult roles and grapple with concepts beyond their years. On paper, it seems yet another dystopic tale; in execution, it's one of the most beloved, gentlest Halloween tales ever produced.
There's at least a small bit of irony that one of the truly iconic Halloween stories, at least here in the US, is also one of the least terrifying.
|Peanuts goes meta: Lucy pores through a TV Guide issue with a familiar figure on the cover.|
This is a different Linus than who appeared in A Charlie Brown Christmas. In that earlier story, Linus is a steady, faithful friend to Charlie Brown, level-headed and spiritually enlightened. As was often true in the daily comics, in the Christmas special Linus was one of the few Peanuts characters who did not ridicule or insult Charlie Brown. There, he accompanied Charlie Brown on his quest for a tree, and even defended the choice later when all the others had scorned it. Here, though, is a Linus who seems slightly befuddled and more quick to lash out, even at Charlie Brown.
|Plus, he also catches serious air as he enjoys Charlie Brown's and Snoopy's leaf-raking handiwork...|
|...which provokes a rare show of fury by Charlie.|
This is a fittingly odd cartoon all around. Many of the familiar faces act slightly out-of-character here, in keeping with the holiday that has so much to do with changing faces.
|"A person should always choose a costume which is in direct contrast to her own personality." - Charles Schulz is having fun here with one of his strongest characters.|
|The moodiest and strangest sequence is Snoopy's World War I "flying ace" fantasy. Here he performs a pre-flight check on his "Sopwith Camel"...|
|...before going up and at 'em to engage von Richtofen's Flying Circus...|
|...almost immediately having to dodge furious flak barrages...|
|...and subsequently taunting and laughing at his opponents' lack of success...|
|...which is only a brief respite before he's raked by gunfire in a harrowing dogfight with the infamous Red Baron.|
|He is shot down...|
|...and miraculously survives a crash-landing...|
|...yet still has enough fighting spirit to curse his airborne opponent.|
|He scrambles across the French countryside...|
|...braving abandoned trenches in search of cover...|
|...until he chances upon a battered farmhouse that offers some shelter.|
|Clambering into a lighted window...|
|...he slides down a curtain during the height of the Peanuts' Halloween party...|
|...before gazing impishly at the viewer.|
The show evokes a mood that is decidedly different than its newspaper counterpart. In that regard, the "Big Three" of Peanuts holiday specials - A Charlie Brown Christmas, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving - distinguish themselves as separate entities from, and, in some ways, transcend the comic strips. Distilling concepts and ideas from years' worth of daily strips and melding them into one (semi)coherent narrative, lends the specials a kind of gravitas that the strips alone could rarely match.
|Of course, Charlie Brown receives a good dose of instant karmic justice for this.|
|Of course, even the most devout may make a Freudian slip that expresses an inner doubt.|
|Sally awakens as the clock strikes 4AM.|
|She finds her brother's room empty.|
|Geared up against the early November chill, she finds Linus shivering in the pumpkin patch. This is one of the few instances I can recall of her face showing concern.|
|She leads the not-quite-conscious Linus home...|
|...where she lovingly readies him for bed...|
|...and tucks him in.|
|Her task over, the customary scowl returns.|
It's a sweet, quiet moment for a character not known for being either sweet or quiet.
For me and many others I know, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is an indispensable part of the Halloween tradition. There is no real hint of the supernatural, no real scares, yet somehow the spirit of the Halloween season is captured. It's a nice contrast to the increasingly hyperviolent and mega-gory takes on the season and holiday seen in TV, movies, and prefabricated "haunted houses."