Blasphemy of a certain sort. While it has to do with Christmas, this sacrilege is highly unlikely to get you a place in the fiery pits of Hades even if you are member of a particularly fundamentalist sect. This blasphemy is directed toward popular culture; a veritable holiday icon of pop culture to be specific. Here goes: "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is not the best Christmas special featuring the characters from Charles Schulz's Peanuts comic strip.
"Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales" is arranged almost like an anthology; it is comparable to reading a collection of Peanuts strips. Nevertheless, you cannot deny that despite the ensemble nature and plentiful screen time given to all the major Peanuts characters, this Christmas special does have a star and her name is Brown. Sally Brown. Everybody gets their chance at delivering holiday seasoned comedy here, but Sally really shines. Her first line, delivered while looking out the front window of her house at the sight of Snoopy almost entirely swallowed by winter headgear is an instant classic that reveals how this Christmas outing is much more surreal than "A Charlie Brown Christmas." "There's a stocking cap coming up the street" sets the stage for Sally's story of a showdown with an ugly neighbor, writing a letter to Samantha Claus and how she "falls down a tree."
The other highlight of "Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales" is Linus' obsession with a female classmate who has the peculiar habit of changing her name every day. This segment allows for the introduction of actual religion into these tales of Christmas courtesy of Linus setting the girl straight when she makes the mistake the choosing to be called Jezebel one day. After learning that this name harkens back to the evil Biblical wife of Ahab, the girl immediately chooses to be called Susan. Linus even gets the chance to channel George Clooney when he responds to Lucy's query about why he continues to bother with this apparently slightly unstable girl who is driving him crazy by admitting "she fascinates me." Typical reverential Peanuts religion is tempered by Sally's rhetorical imperative against questioning her religious beliefs upon revealing to big brother Charlie that on each of her Christmas card envelopes she has personally hand drawn a bunny dressed like shepherd.
The surreal, slightly off-model stylistic choices that make this animated special feel much closer in spirit to the original comic strips of the 1950s also allows for the introduction of a little postmodern self reference. One of the subplots has Snoopy dressed as a street corner Santa and when Lucy complains that Snoopy's squeezebox musical accompaniment of "Oh, Susanna" just doesn't feel right, he immediately launches into the familiar strains of "Christmastime is Here" from the original Charlie Brown Christmas special.
While "A Charlie Brown Christmas" may forever be the most heartwarming animated Christmas special of all time, the bizarre humor of "Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales" is far preferable for those simply looking for some laughter amidst the dark elements of the holiday season.
For more from Timothy Sexton, check out:
- Charlie Brown
- Sally Brown