We had our first sustained windstorm of the fall here in Northern California, enough to give the neighborhood a dusting of maple leaves. This, along with my children’s schools’ constant reminders that no costumes with guns will be allowed, gets me thinking of Halloween. And when I think of Halloween, I eventually think of The Great Pumpkin — or rather, It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, Charles Schultz’ Peanuts holiday special (since 2001, airing on Halloween itself on ABC).
Premiering in 1966, it was the third Peanuts special, and the second with a holiday theme, following A Charlie Brown Christmas. As a one-year old at the time, I (likely) became aware of both of these programs in their natural, seasonal progression in future years. While Christmasmay have been Schultz’s ‘high mass’ of holiday specials, Great Pumpkin was the herald of the holiday intensity, yet carried a mysterious air in its own right. Moments of slapstick humor (such as the classic Lucy/Charlie football routine) give way to more free-form passages, where the misty, surreal Chagall/Van Gogh-like backgrounds seem to come to the fore and interplay withVince Guaraldi’s soundtrack, which veers from cool jazz into third stream. This is evident in the ‘trick-or-treat’ sequences and when Linus and Sally are staking out the Great Pumpkin, but especially in the behind-enemy-lines sequence following Snoopy’s battle with the Red Baron, my first encounter with the surreal horror of a (in this case, WWI) battlefield. This was followed by Snoopy’s wild, mood-swinging interpretive reactions to Schroeder’s piano-bar snippets of nostalgic tunes such as “Roses of Picardy” and “It’s A long Way To Tipperary”, one could say a child’s mild introduction to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Now I am often out, first shepherding, now chaperoning, soon to be shuffling around, waiting. Perhaps I will find time this year to return to this strange yet humorous gem.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown airs on Oct. 31 at 8 p.m. on ABC.
For availability in your area, check out your local ABC network. Here’s WABC 7 New York.