?Watching Peanuts specials is as much as a part of childhood as going to school and discovering that (spoiler alert) the whole Santa Claus thing is complete bullshit. The adventures of Charlie Brown and the gang are amongst the most enduring of all cartoons because the characters and situations depicted therein are universally relatable. We see Charlie Brown struggle with flying his kite and kicking a football and we smile, because we realize that life can be just as frustrating as it is funny. Over the years these programs have become a welcome part of our shared cultural heritage. And it doesn’t hurt that they welcome repeat viewings either. Well, most of them anyway. To date there have been a whopping 45 specials based on Charles Schulz’s timeless comic strip. Most of these are terrific… and then there are others that stink worse than Pig Pen standing in the July sun with his feet covered with Snoopy poop. But which ones are great and which are the television equivalent of getting a rock in your trick-or-treat bag? Let’s find out with this look at the five best — and five worst — Peanuts specials ever made.
5) A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
Often thought of as the red-headed stepchild of Peanuts holiday specials, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving has proven itself to be eerily prescient since debuting back in 1973. Due to splintered families and economical factors (more on these in a second) it seems that more people than ever are spending Thanksgiving with friends as opposed to relatives. Were these Friendsgiving celebrations directly influenced by this special? It’s tough to say, but one thing that is clearer is how financially sensible Snoopy’s menu choices of popcorn, toast, jellybeans and pretzel rods seem given the current economic downturn.
4) A Charlie Brown Celebration
With Lucy’s role as the Peanuts crew’s resident cunt firmly established, the awesome decision was made to have her experience some karmic retribution for her assholish behavior in 1982’s A Charlie Brown Celebration. With Charlie Brown ailing in the hospital, Lucy participates in the Charles Schulz equivalent of a Faustian bargain and agrees to never pull the football away again from Chuck if he gets better. When Charlie Brown does in fact recover, Lucy reluctantly agrees to fulfill her half of the arrangement. Of course, our yellow-shirted hero still has no athletic prowess whatsoever and he winds up kicking Lucy’s hand instead of the ball. Her hand is shattered, as is his confidence once again. Both Charlie Brown and Lucy feel terrible as the episode ends, but not so for the viewers, who were thrilled to witness this bit of animated schadenfreude (alas, the Schulz family may disagree, as virtually all Celebration videos have been pulled from YouTube; if you don’t mind watching it in Spanish, go here, skip to 7:45, and let sweet justice get served). To spare myself any overly PC complaints in the comments let me just say here that under no circumstances is violence against women ever acceptable or worth making light of. But violence against non-existent cartoon bitches? Hell yes.
3) Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown?
I first watched Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown? shortly after my Godzilla-loving friend Derek Taylor moved with his family to California when his dad got a new job. So needless to say, witnessing Charlie Brown and Linus seemingly being ripped apart by distance deeply affected by prepubescent mind. Even though the ending is a complete cop out, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the emotions of this special whether you ever lost a pal to a move or not. And Derek, if you are out there I want my Star Wars pop-up book back.
2) It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
These days it is said that people spend more money on Halloween than they do during the Christmas season. That seems a bit dubious to be sure, but if this factoid — that I still think is mainly perpetuated by the owners of those seasonal mall costume shops — is true, it’s largely because of this special. This program is every bit about the perils of blind faith as it is about the joys of dressing up and getting free candy. That’s some pretty heady stuff to be featured in a kids’ cartoon. The only negative aspect of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is that it likely inspired sadistic bastards to randomly give kids rocks instead of Milky Ways. That’s completely unacceptable because those are so delicious.
1) A Charlie Brown Christmas
Was there really any doubt what would take the top slot? A Charlie Brown Christmas has been showered with endless accolades since its 1965 debut. But here’s the thing, it is worthy of all of them. It is simply the perfect pop culture artifact that can be enjoyed regardless of age or religion. Adding to the program’s legend is how network execs weren’t sure that it would connect with audiences. Fortunately, they were wrong wrong wrong. The success of this special cemented Peanuts‘ place in the hearts of viewers everywhere and it remains Charles Schulz’s masterpiece. Not to mention that it is still the most enduring, and above all, pure holiday special ever made. Its television as tradition, and a Christmas without at least one viewing of seems unimaginable.
Hit the jump for the worst Peanuts specials ever made.
5) Why, Charlie Brown, Why?
Playing like an extended Debbie Downer sketch, the aptly named Why, Charlie Brown, Why? focuses on Janice, a never-before-seen character who is stricken with leukemia. Linus takes his heretofore unseen friend’s illness especially hard and viewers are subsequently treated to scenes of him crying whilst leaves fall from trees and religious music plays. It’s a fucking blast. Elsewhere in this dirge of a cartoon, a bully pulls off Janice’s hat to reveal her chemotherapy-induced baldness. Then Linus totally loses his shit and is ready to start punching instead of breaking into his usual preaching schtick. Odd, right? Tonally, this special feels like one of those religious Archie comics — the characters are familiar, but there’s something very very off somewhere. Charles Schulz’s attempts to bring serious subject matter to young viewers are admirable. The problem here is the execution. There’s nothing funny about cancer, and as such this special is a dire watch that is devoid of the lightness that people usually tune into Peanuts shows for. Another problem is that the hopeful resolution presented here doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the horrors of the disease. It obviously would have been inappropriate for the producers to kill off Janice, but the upbeat ending suggests that all’s well that ends well when people get sick. To sum up: kite-eating trees are awesome. Cancer, not so much.
4) It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown/I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown/Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales
Not sequels to A Charlie Brown Christmas per se, these three specials chronicle additional Yuletide adventures for the Peanuts characters. On their own, each is an inoffensive and lightweight program (well, except I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown which focuses on the insufferable Rerun — a character whose complete lack of having anything to do with Fred Berry still irritates me). By standing in the shadow of their epic predecessor, these shows never feel like anything more than superfluous. Fa la la la lousy cash grabs, if you will.
3) It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown
So just plant a fucking tree and be done with it already. Jesus.
2) It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown
Poor Snoopy, how the mighty have fallen. Once he was soaring through the skies fighting the Red Baron and now he’s wearing leotards and dancing to disco five years too late. As someone who regularly listens to the Cherry Bomb music from Howard the Duck, I probably shouldn’t be getting on a high horse about how fans of this special should untether themselves from their 1980s nostalgia and realize what a steaming pile this truly is. I’m totally going to though. What makes the best Peanuts specials so enduring is how timeless they are, whereas It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown was dated within a year of its original broadcast. Maybe I’m just too uptight about these sorts of matters, but it seems to me that by pandering to then-current trends — the Jane Fonda Workout mentality, break dancing, etc — this special devalues the uniqueness of the characters and the Peanuts brand as a whole. Sadder still, the songs kind of suck. I’m sure those are fighting words to some of you. My apologies.
1) It’s the Girl in the Red Truck, Charlie Brown
“It’s Called Nepotism, Charlie Brown” would have been a more appropriate title for this hodgepodge of live action and animation that stars Charles Schulz’s daughter Jill and was co-written by his son Monte. In an incomprehensible move, Snoopy’s irksome brother Spike is the focus of attention here. When the emaciated pooch encounters the titular girl in the red truck (portrayed by Jill Schulz), her joins her for a meandering desert adventure that comes complete with some domestic drama and roller-skating aplenty…and hardly any of the characters you actually give a shit about. The threadbare plot has Schulz desiring to be a dancer in the city while Spike mugs for the camera. And that’s about it. So things every kid wants to watch basically (check out the above video for a clip that illustrates how misguided this self-indulgent mess was). Because Charles Schulz has brought so much happiness into the world, it’s easy to forgive a vanity project like this one. Interestingly enough, while researching this article I discovered that It’s the Girl in the Red Truck, Charlie Brown is the only Peanuts special not featured in its entirety on YouTube (Note: A Charlie Brown Celebration was available, but then pulled). I think the fact that copyright infringing pirates couldn’t even be bothered to illegally upload this train wreck to the Internet pretty much says all you need to know about the program’s quality.
Chris Cummins is a pop culture writer and Archie comics historian who has contributed to The Robot's Voice, Den of Geek US, Philebrity, Geekadelphia, Uproxx, and Unicorn Booty. He is the co-producer and co-host of Nerd Nite Philadelphia, and is regularly involved in producing and hosting New York Super Week events. In 2014, Chris began Sci-Fi Explosion, a mix of live performance, trivia and funny clips celebrating the weirdest in science fiction that regularly travels around the United States. He wrote the introductions to the compilations Archie's Favorite Comics From The Vault and (with Paul Castiglia) Archie's Favorite High School Stories. You can find Chris on Twitter at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion.