The tricks and treats of a classic for 'children'
A wartime battle.
The bullying of a schoolmate.
Rituals of faith questioned, mocked and restored.
The evolution of the role of women in society.
The fine print of a signed document leading to a scam.
Yes, time has come once again for “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”
Astonishing how much life can exist within the 25 or so minutes of an animated classic.
To these eyes, only the Mr. Magoo version of “A Christmas Carol” comes close to the perfection that is the Peanuts gang’s annual Halloween visit.
“It’s the Great Pumpkin” airs at 8 p.m., Tuesday night, on ABC and — if you haven’t seen the 53-year-old tale in a decade or four — you really should take the time to watch it.
Watching through adult eyes adds three-dimension of depth to the story and characters most-often flicked away as one-note cartoons.
“You don’t believe the story of the Great Pumpkin?” Linus incredulously asks of Sally, who has chosen to skip trick-or-treating and Violet’s party to sit in the “most sincere pumpkin patch” with the object of her affection.
“I thought little girls always believed everything that was told to them. I thought little girls were innocent and trusting.”
“Welcome,” Sally responds, “to the 20th century.”
The truth about “Peanuts,” the reason it endures 19 years after the death of Charles Schulz, is that these were never characters stuck in a place and time. Instead, they exist in “childhood” — a period from which we all grow out of, but never quite leave.
Consider how fate treats Charlie Brown during the course of “It’s the Great Pumpkin.”
Ever hopeful that this day will be different, he’s thrilled to receive an invitation to Violet’s party — only to be told by Lucy that it must be a mistake.
Undaunted, he senses a turn in his karma. So, when Lucy shows him a “signed document” that apparently ensures that she will not pull the football away as he approaches to kick it, he convinces himself that, this time, things will be different.
“Peculiar thing about this document,” Lucy says, after the fact. “It was never notarized.”
Charlie Brown’s torment continues on Halloween night as at every house the costumed kids approach, he receives the same offering (“I got a rock”) and then, ultimately, he learns that the reason he was asked to the party was that the back of his head serves as the perfect model for the carving of a pumpkin.
Through it all, he acts through some sense of faith in the universe that things will turn out differently — bonded within this particular insanity with Linus, who has grown his pumpkins, written his letter to The Great Pumpkin and now eschews the other traditions of the night to await the arrival of the holiday spirit.
And it’s here that the wisdom of years spent might make raise dust in the eyes of adults who watch the special.
Charlie Brown, after all, is the perennially tormented child, easily swayed by shifting circumstance. But Linus ... Linus is the embodiment of aspiration. Clinging to his beliefs as tightly as he does his ever-present blanket, he’s mortified by his own slip of the tongue that occurs when Sally gives up and leaves for the party.
“Aren’t you going to wait and greet the Great Pumpkin,” Linus asks. “If the Great Pumpkin comes, I’ll still put in a good word for you. ... Good grief! I said ‘if’! I meant, ‘when’ he comes!
“I’m doomed. ... Oh, Great Pumpkin, where are you?”
The secret behind all this is within the simplicity and the innocence with which it all plays out. There aren’t any shocking twists, or out-of-character moments. And, at a time when the art of special effects can make the impossible possible in live action films, the animation of “It’s the Great Pumpkin” is far more striking.
Nowhere is this more striking than in Snoopy’s dogfight with the Red Baron — the moment when the grounded reality of the children’s stories breaks free for a true flight of fancy. Impeccably illustrated, this sequence always seems an outlier to the rest of the piece — until you consider it in terms of how the characters perceive the world around them.
Charlie Brown and Linus attempt to base their wishes within the context of their real world. Snoopy lives out his fantasy, and because of that he’s the only one of the three who experiences the accompanying thrill and sorrow. His tears as Schroeder plays tunes from the World War I era carry the weight of an emotional core.
OK, I know ... it’s a half-hour children’s program based on a comic strip. But in a time when snark, irony and self-referential humor rule the airwaves, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” serves as a reminder that the most difficult things to pull off are often those where the effort isn’t evident.
At the end of the half-hour (in a moment too often cut by commercial networks), Charlie Brown and Linus are alone together to bemoan their fates.
“Do you want one of my rocks,” Charlie Brown asks.
And the room gets dusty.
Mail Tribune copy desk chief Robert Galvin works in the most sincere pumpkin patch at firstname.lastname@example.org.