The best part of Christmas is watching the same beloved holiday movies again, and this year we’re paying tribute to our favorites by breaking down everything that makes them an annual must-watch. In this Classic Christmas Movie Breakdown we’re looking at the the story of a child struggling to enjoy the holiday thanks to the commercialization of the season, A Charlie Brown Christmas.
If you want to see how much the world of entertainment has changed over 50 years, watch this 1965 commercial for A Charlie Brown Christmas. CBS would get inundated with complaints from confused viewers if they used the word “impudent” in an ad today. Yet this classic is timeless because its themes–the corruption of the true spirit of Christmas and battling depression–are as relevant today as they were when it first aired. And despite being a cartoon for kids, Charlie’s struggles with isolation are relatable to many who struggle during the holiday season. But those all too familiar problems are why the ending is as powerful now as it ever was. A Charlie Brown Christmas presents the issues of the season honestly, and then delivers a hopeful message about why things can get better.
Isn’t there anyone who knows what A Charlie Brown Christmas is all about? Sure, I can tell you what this holiday classic is all about.
Does Santa appear? Is he real?
No sign of Santa, not even one of his “helpers.” There are wonderful winter touches to help set the right holiday mood though, like a frozen pond full of kids ice skating, a school Christmas pageant, and decorations across the snow-covered town.
Do any magical creatures talk?
This could be a matter of semantics, because there are no magical creatures to be found here like in Frosty or Rudolph. However Snoopy does the following things: decorates his dog house with Christmas lights, goes ice skating, reads the newspaper, dances, and does spot-on impressions of other animals. Maybe that’s not magical, but that is one amazing dog.
Are there any religious components?
Maybe more than any other Christmas movie except It’s A Wonderful Life which features a real angel and a literal act of God, A Charlie Brown Christmas wouldn’t be as beloved without its connections to the Christian holiday. At first the kids Christmas pageant is another example of how the holiday’s true meaning has been lost, as the children ignore their director Charlie and only worry about the size of their roles. But Charlie hits his breaking point after his sad little tree is mocked for not being a fancy shiny aluminum one. He screams, asking if anyone knows what Christmas is all about. What follows is one of the best moments in Christmas movie history, as Linus recites a passage from the Book of Luke about the birth of Christ. But it doesn’t matter what religion you may or may not follow, because the message Linus is sharing is one of hope for all humanity and the dream mankind will find peace on Earth.
How lovable is the main character?
If you don’t love Charlie Brown, I don’t know what to tell you. Charlie Brown is the best. He spends most of this special depressed because he can’t find the same happiness in Christmas that everyone else does. His sister Sally sees the holiday as her opportunity to cash in on good behavior, while his dog Snoopy is concerned with winning the local Christmas decoration competition. Meanwhile all of the other kids treat Charlie like crap, and make fun of his tree.
But because Charlie is the best, he manages to overcome all of that when Linus reminds him Christmas isn’t about yourself and what you can get, it’s about spreading good cheer to others. That’s when Charlie realizes he’s not the one with the problem, which inspires everyone else to spread some good cheer his way.
He might be a blockhead, but he’s a lovable one.
How evil is the villain?
There is no pure villain to be found here, although most of the kids are so awful to Charlie Brown you’ll find yourself wondering if it’s okay to hate an eight year old. (It is. It definitely is.) The true villain is the commercialization of Christmas, which is responsible for Charlie’s problems, and is still an issue for many.
How sincere or cynical is the movie about Christmas?
It’s very cynical about how Christmas can be corrupted into a greedy contest to see who can soak Santa for the most gifts, and who can decorate their home with the gaudiest light display. But between Linus’s speech and the way the kids finally come together to show some love to Charlie and his tree, it’s ultimately a sincere story about the message of hope and peace Christmas was founded on.
Does anyone sing? Is there a big group sing along?
It ends with the kids singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” It’s a wonderful ending to a beautifully crafted story.
What are the biggest Christmas themes?
The corruption of the true meaning of Christmas, peace on Earth, and good will towards men. We call those the big ones.
Most memorable quote?
“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
Yes it is.
The final scene, after Charlie thinks he has killed his tree but the other kids fix it up, all singing together. But it’s not the absolute best, because that goes to moment that is also the answer to our final question.
Most emotional moment?
It’s not only that Linus cuts through the commercialization of Christmas with a simple message to remind us that for one day a year we can all unite to make life better for others, it’s the immediate effect it has on Charlie’s spirits. It’s poignant, beautiful, and hopeful.
There’s a reason A Charlie Brown Christmas has aired on TV every single Christmas season since its premiere: it has a message we need to hear every year to help us get through the next one.
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