It is 50 years to the day that It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown debuted on CBS, hitting television screen on October 27, 1966. In the five decades since its debut, Great Pumpkin has remained one of the iconic Charlie Brown stories, and as the third Peanuts animated special ever made, it has remained highly influential on the public perception of Charles Schulz’s comic strip, second only to the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas. And with good reason, this is perfect Peanuts storytelling that encapsulates everything special about this one-of-a-kind series.
Like all the great Peanuts specials, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is simple in its narrative style, restrained in its comedic tone, and primarily concerned with the inner lives of its beautiful characters. Set in the days leading up to Halloween and Halloween night itself, the special focuses equally on Linus Van Pelt and Charlie Brown, who each have their struggles surrounding the holiday. For Linus, it’s his often mocked belief in The Great Pumpkin, who he believes visits good boys and girls every Halloween in pumpkin patches to reward their faith. For Charlie, it’s his self-esteem and anxieties surrounding being finally invited to a party on Halloween night. It’s all informed by the classic Peanuts approach of having a sweet message supplied by child voice actors, which can never be completely successfully replicated outside of the franchise.
While Great Pumpkin may not pack the emotional resonance of A Charlie Brown Christmas, it’s informed by a subversive commentary on faith. It’s interesting to see how Linus, the stalwart symbol of wisdom and knowledge in Peanuts, is troubled by something as silly as The Great Pumpkin, which can only be assumed is an orange and round version of the Easter Bunny. While Linus is often the most stable member of the Peanuts gang, his belief in The Great Pumpkin is shown as folly here. But while the other kids mock him, the story itself is never mocking. In fact, Linus’ resolute faith in the Great Pumpkin feels equally admirable and silly.