On this Deluxe Edition from Warner Brothers, It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is paired with the lesser-known It’s Magic, Charlie Brown.
The Great Pumpkin is a television institution. It was the third animated Peanuts special and has been airing annually on network television since 1966. The main plotline focuses on Linus as he anticipates the arrival of The Great Pumpkin, a magical creature similar to Santa Claus, who brings toys to children. The main difference between them is that The Great Pumpkin only shows up at sincere pumpkin patches.
Linus faces doubters at every turn, including derision from his friend Charlie Brown, laughter from Snoopy, and threats from his older sister Lucy, who makes clear, “You better cut it out right now or I'll pound you!” Yet his faith remains strong, causing him to bypass trick-or-treating to await The Great Pumpkin’s arrival. Sally, who has a one-way crush on Linus, agrees to wait with him in the pumpkin patch, needlessly warning, “If you try to hold my hand, I'll slug you.”
There are also two subplots. Charlie Brown gets invited to Violet’s party, his first to a party of any kind, but Lucy quickly informs him it was likely an error. He dresses like a ghost, but has “a little trouble with the scissors,” and creates his iconic costume of a ghost with too many eyes. His luck continues in this same vein. While out with the gang trick-or-treating, Charlie Brown only receives rocks in his candy bag. Snoopy has his own adventure. As a WWI flying ace, he takes to the skies in his Sopwith Camel, battles with the Red Baron, and ends up behind enemy lines. Charles Schulz pulls all three stories together nicely with his usual charm, wit, and insight.
It’s Magic, Charlie Brown is the 23rd animated Peanuts special and debuted in 1981. After being given Charlie Brown’s library card, Snoopy gets a book on magic. He puts on a show as “The Great Houndini” performing tricks with limited success, such as pulling a rabbit (Woodstock wearing bunny ears) out of his hat and levitating Lucy. Snoopy makes Charlie Brown disappear, but isn’t sure how. Turns out he made him invisible, but Snoopy doesn’t know how to turn him back. Charlie Brown is resigned to forever “walk the Earth as a lost soul,” although there is a silver lining as he is finally able to kick Lucy’s football. This episode only focuses on the one story.
While Great Pumpkin is grounded in reality other than Snoopy’s flights of fancy, everything in It’s Magic is wildly unrealistic and seems to stray from the Peanuts I remember. Plus, add my shock and disappoint in seeing Charlie Brown finally get to kick the football, and I can guarantee I have no desire to ever watch this special again. Schulz tries to explain it away by having Lucy say it doesn’t count because no one saw Charlie Brown do it because he was invisible, but that’s complete rubbish. No one is usually ever around during these incidents. Charlie Brown is doing it for himself and not for others to see, and the viewers know he did it. Schulz wrote himself into a corner and cheated to get out, something I would expect from a Hollywood producer who was only using the characters to make a buck, not the man who created the Peanuts universe. It was a disappointment.
The animation styles are different as well. Great Pumpkin's director Bill Melendez and his animation team created gorgeous-looking scenes and made great use of color in the night skies and during Snoopy’s aerial dogfight. Magic's director Phil Roman's vision was serviceable and straightforward, but nothing memorable in the artwork.
While It’s Magic failed miserably with me, my nine-year-old nephew actually liked it better. He thought Great Pumpkin was good, so I am not going to disown him, but It’s Magic stood above because he enjoyed the magic and after seeing parts of the inside of Snoopy’s doghouse, he thought it was the best doghouse in the world and wanted to live in it, a well-reasoned point I, as a former nine-year-old, can’t argue.
There is one special feature, “We Need a Blockbuster, Charlie Brown,” about the creation of Great Pumpkin. There are interviews with executive producer Lee Mendelson, Melendez, Schulz family members, and historians. Two songs from the soundtrack, “Great Pumpkin Waltz” and “Oh, Good Grief,” were available as free iTunes downloads thanks to The Concord Music Group.