Written by Aaron Sarnecky
IT’S YOUR 50TH CHRISTMAS, CHARLIE BROWN SUMMARY:
Kristen Bell hosts this special commemorating the 50th anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Joining her are musical guests Sarah McLachlin, David Benoit, Boyz II Men, Kristin Chenoweth, Matthew Morrison, Pentatonix, and the All-American Boys Choir, as well as President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, who make a short appearance.
Charlie Brown and the Peanuts hold a very special place in my heart, and the holiday specials and comic strip remain favorites in my family. In addition, my family’s affinity for beagles can be largely attributed to Snoopy. Because of this, I was anxious about reviewing this new special, as I worried about whether or not ABC would do the cartoon justice.
Fortunately I can say that while it might not be the most exciting, It’s Your 50th Christmas, Charlie Brown is not a botched attempt by ABC. The most interesting parts, in my opinion, are the behind the scenes content detailing the creation of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Though Charles Schulz and Lee Mendelson actually had very little time to come up with the plot, they turned out a great product that remained true to the comic strip. It was so successful that around 45% of people watching TV in U.S. tuned in (this was in 1965, when there were very few channels, but it’s impressive nonetheless) and went on to win an Emmy and a Peabody Award.
Kristen Bell does a pretty good job as host, though a lot of her jokes fall flat. Still, she shows a genuine interest in the subject matter. For an event like this, she’s just right. However, it’s obvious that ABC hoped that the musical guests would be the special’s main draw. Like Bell, they all do a satisfactory job, but I doubt most viewers will talk about any of their performances the next morning. I will say that as someone who never watched Glee, I never knew that Matthew Morrison had such a wonderful voice, though his song about the famous tree in the cartoon starts to get a little goofy. The kids of Pentatonix, the acapella group that seems to be all the rage right now, have nice voices too, though I might say their sound feels a little too modern for a (mostly) timeless classic like The Peanuts. Then again, the choice of jazz for A Charlie Brown Christmas was thought unconventional at the time. Still, I think I enjoyed Sarah McLachlin’s traditional rendition of “Christmas Time Is Here” the best.
In regards to the President and First Lady’s involvement, I was ready to complain about it when I first got wind of it. But let me make it clear as possible that it has NOTHING to do with the President’s politics. I just find their eagerness to make public appearances (outside of late night talk shows) a little overbearing at times. The fact that the First Lady had to get involved with the Oscars a few years back still annoys me. But I’m going to give them some credit for this instance. They didn’t have to do it and I doubt this extravaganza even got that many viewers. If Mr. and Mrs. Obama like it enough that they want to talk about it, that’s alright by me, especially if that means it’s still cool to talk about The Peanuts.
It’s probably best to get out of the way that the President does dance around the religious themes of A Charlie Brown Christmas when talking about Linus’ moment on stage (it would have been easier not to mention it at all), and I’m sure his critics will hate him for it, but it’s better that he doesn’t sound exclusionary or biased when talking about peace and good will. It’s a tricky subject that It’s Your 50th Christmas, Charlie Brown struggles with a little in general, but I think that it strikes the right balance, considering “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is one of the featured songs. Which brings me to the cartoon itself. Some people might interpret it as vehemently anti-commercial, but I really don’t think that’s the case. It’s actually a warning about letting consumer culture overshadowing the religious roots of the holiday. However, I believe that it’s a classic that can be appreciated by anyone from any background, as highlighted by the number of languages that the cartoon has been dubbed for, ranging from European languages like German to even Japanese.
It might not be a home run, but It’s Your 50th Christmas, Charlie Brown is a worthy tribute to the animated classic, even if it loses focus as it goes on, instead opting to explore the whole Peanuts franchise instead of just A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s decent enough that I’m excited for ABC’s tribute to Toy Story next week.
RATING: 7 OUT OF 10 (GOOD)