The greatest of all holiday specials, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” is on ABC at 8 tonight (Thursday). (It’s also available to stream free via Hulu.) I wrote about it a few years back and, unable to say it any better, regift that review to you here.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” makes its yearly visit this week, in all its gorgeous melancholy. One of the first and still relatively few holiday perennials created by television, it remains, after nearly 50 years, as fresh as snowfall.
What makes it so? For one thing, it isn’t about any cooked-up crisis in the life of a mythological creature; there are no elves, no reindeer, no Santa Claus. It’s just about us. In the year he watched his humble comic strip become a national obsession, Charles Schulz wrote a little fable about the commercializing of a pure, deep, simple thing, and the only Christmas magic it allows is the kind we muster ourselves, when we pay attention to something other than ourselves.
As animated by Bill Melendez, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” remains true to both the spirit of Christmas and to the spirit of “Peanuts” — it makes its pitch for hope and love, but it doesn’t sell short the anxiety and alienation the season creates. “I know nobody likes me,” sighs Charlie Brown. “Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?”
The sad little Christmas tree he buys for the school play stands for all the world’s underfed, unseen, unloved, yet it is not beyond rescue. Subtle, slow and quiet — absolutely silent at times — the special is satisfyingly wintry, spoken in the voices of real children and garlanded with Vince Guaraldi’s famous pensive-ecstatic jazz piano score. And here and there it flies into passages of unmitigated joy, as comic characters freed from the page exult in the power to dance.