I’m not a particularly big fan of Christmas media or a particularly big fan of the Peanuts series, but every year I find myself drawn to the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Unlike most holiday specials, this one does not feel to me like an aside or cash-in on Christmas iconography. There is some essential quality in this film that sets it apart to me, making it perfect.
If you rolled your eyes, that’s fine, but at least let me make my case. When I describe this film as perfect, I am not suggesting it is among the best films made, or even holiday films made, although I believe that case could be made. I’m simply suggesting that it is complete. From beginning to end, this film persists and maintains its focus without digressing into superfluous asides. Maybe this could be owed to an adoption of the comic strip tightness of narrative, but it feels like there is more to it than that. There are jokes, and they are weak at times, but it never asks you to sit around and laugh at them.
Beyond the narrative, all the compositional elements are in perfect interplay. Vince Guaraldi’s iconic low-key jazz backs up almost every scene and the environments feel authentic. The world is flat and simple, but immersively so. Nature is compact but always shifting and the indoors feel cozy and certain. The night sky is constantly changing and the scale feels like childhood. What was small in a moment becomes immensely large and the characters shrink into it.
It’s not that I have a high level of investment in the characters or story, but I really do get pulled into this world. It may because the conflict is so simple and so pointless. Charlie Brown is jaded and thinks Christmas is too commercial and Linus pulls back the music and lights and offers a sermon as to the meaning of the holiday. It’s corny and played out. But the movie isn’t really about that, if it’s about anything at all. It’s saccharine and brief, but it doesn’t purport to be more. Just 25 minutes of harmoniously synthesized elements, a day-long experience of the holidays, save any real discord.
All in all, I think it is safe to say that my yearly attraction to this movie has more to do with me than with anything else. My holidays are seldom full of strife, but maybe I enjoy the close focus of Charlie Brown’s Christmas experience. The external world is foreboding and huge, looming over the children as they walk and giving first place prizes to Snoopy’s decorations. Still, it isn’t really there as more than an abstraction. Lucy wants real estate for Christmas and Linus will someday make his blanket into a sportcoat.
But at the end of it, all that really matters are the essential qualities. How beautiful the falling snow looks against the watercolor sky. The resounding empty volume of the auditorium where Linus give his hokey speech. The awkward simplicity of the kids skating to their voices roughly singing. It’s kitschy and unrefined and preachy and perfect.