Friday, December 22, 2006

Things I dig: That Charlie Brown Christmas Special

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time you might have gotten the idea that I'm a right old cynical bastard. And you'd be right! And unsurprisingly enough, my new-born kitten hating level of cynicism extends to Christmas, the great annual holiday tradition celebrating that time a twelve year old girl dropped a sprog in some outhouse in the desert.

The thing about Christmas is, I'm not religious and I don't really like my family all that much so shameless materialistic consumerism is really the only thing I get out of all that Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire nonsense that characterizes a good two to three months of every year. Seriously, my idea of a good christmas is one in which the net value of all the gifts I receive is higher than the amount of money I had to shill out on gifts for all those friends and relatives and stuff. But before you start thinking I'm some sort of bitter, penny-pinching, cripple murdering old miser like in that Bill Murray movie Scrooged, I do indeed have a festive bone or two in my body.

Take the subject of this week's Things I Dig for example: Charles Schultz's famous and much loved animated TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas, an unashamed love-letter to the festive season that I nevertheless love the hell out of. Marking the first time Schultz's classic Peanuts cast appeared in animated form, A Charlie Brown Christmas has essentially become the yardstick for all Christmas films, books, TV specials and other assorted yuletide themed nonsense.

My love for this piece of seasonal perfection may surprise you considering that the film is a criticism of the only aspect of Christmas that I actually enjoy: crass commercialism and mindless materialistic consumption. But Charlie Brown's quest to find meaning in a holiday stripped of all it's traditional appeal is explored with such wit, charm, warmth and intelligence that it would inspire even the bitterest, miser asshole to buy giant turkeys for crippled dying little boys and stuff. Essentially, it's the perfect christmas antidote for those of you so innately jaded and cynical that you slid out of your mother's womb saying "Gross! I'm some sort of hideous squishy pruny thing covered in fucking placenta and I just squeezed my way out of swollen bloodied vagina! The beauty of birth my ass!" like I did.

But swollen bloodied vaginas aside, there's quite a lot to recommend about the film. In particular, I quite liked that they used real children to voice the characters. It lends the whole thing a timeless innocence completely devoid in today's animated features populated by overpaid movie stars and their obnoxious Hollywood accents. In particular, the kid who plays Charlie Brown is note perfect delivering just the right combination of sadness, world weariness and underlying hopefulness. The actors who portray Lucy and Linus are pretty good too. I also really dig the soundtrack with its cute 1960's jazz and kewl theme song that was recently used in the groovy Wes Anderson movie The Royal Tenenbaums.

A testament to its timelessness, the special has been homaged endlessly in cultural products vastly inferior to it. If you're watching it for the first time this year I'm sure you'll recognize a couple of scenes in it that have sort of entered the collective consciousness of western culture. The scene in which Linus recites the Christmas story and the final scene when the cast of Peanuts sing Hark the Herald Angel seem to have particularly struck a chord.

Most indicative of the film's intelligence is the role Schultz delegates Snoopy. Considering the slow eventual distillitation of the character into an internationally recognized merchandising mascot it is with, perhaps, a sly wink that Charles Schultz uses Snoopy as a symbol of the crass materialism of Christmas.

So, I'm sure you'll agree that Christmas movies are generally pretty bloody rubbish. Here's a few more that buck the trend:

A Muppet Christmas Carol
There's lots of rip-offs of A Christmas Carol out there and this is certainly one of them. This one, however, has the benefit of containing Michael Caine and Kermit the Frog.

The Office Christmas Specials
These aren't all that Christmassy but they have the word Christmas in their title and they're good.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Included on this list mostly because of that scene where Chevy Chase gets hit in the face a lot with a plank of wood.

Bad Santa
I really feel like this movie was made specifically with me in mind. The only thing that would have made this movie better is a scene in which Paul McCartney repeatedly stabs Bono in the elbow with a broken glass.

I also used to watch the Father Ted Christmas special that I taped off the telly a lot but, alas, I don't actually own a VCR anymore because only commie nazi thatcherites still use VHS. Merry Christmas!


Hoardmeister said...

Yes, A Charlie Brown Christmas is a lovely program. However, the first time I saw it, it seemed wrong, because the characters had different voices than the ones in my head. (The voices I'd assigned to the characters, not the other voices in my head.)

You might want to take a look at my latest entries for some celeb-spotting. Tah!

Captain Great said...

OMG! I read it the other day and I was hella jealous!

I hope you had a tops Christmas!