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The History of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”

When pumpkins and corn husks start to appear as decorations and kids start thinking about their Halloween costumes, you know it’s time to watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”  According to the Peanuts Fandom site, Peanuts author Charles M Schulz, the animated Halloween classic first aired on October 27, 1966, and has since become a perennial favorite of children and their parents. Even in this day and age of TikTok and Cocomellon, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” still holds its own and attracts new viewers. 

“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” is one of several holiday-focused animated movies created by Charles M. Schultz, and along with “A Charlie Brown Christmas” are by far the most popular Peanuts-based holiday movies. Other Peanuts holiday-theme movies  include, “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” “Be My Valentine Charlie Brown” and “Happy New Year, Charlie Brown.” When I was growing up we could not wait to watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” for it was the official start of the Holiday Season and all the great holiday-themed cartoon movies.  

When did the Great Pumpkin First Appear in the Peanuts?

According to the Great Pumpkin Wikki site, the “Great Pumpkin” was first mentioned by Linus in 1959 and then became the main focus of ‘Its the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” released in October 1966. The Great Pumpkin was also mentioned in “Your Not Elected, Charlie Brown,” “It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown” and several other Charlie Brown movies and individual Peanuts comic strip episodes.

What makes “It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” so Popular? 

The answer is not so simple, as with most popular movies and shows, but many believe that the message, music, and themes are timeless and appeal to kids, adolescents and adults. As an animated movie or cartoon featuring goofy kids, the appeal to kids is easy to understand. It’s fun to watch and the situations are relatable for most. I believe kids see themselves in one of the many characters. They may be the bossy Lucy, the love-stricken Sally, or the lonely and misunderstood Charlie Brown, the sloppy Pigpen, the brilliant but reclusive Linus, or one of the many other characters. Where the genius of Charles M. Shultz emerges, I believe, is with the use of very mature dialog and well-known soundtracks, which makes his movies also appealing to older viewers. The characters are kids, but at many points, they act and sound more like adults!

And then there’s Snoopy! They say dogs are man’s best friend, and in Snoopy, Charlie Brown does in fact find his best friend. Who doesn’t love a funny, friendly dog? Snoopy has an amazing imagination, drawing viewers into fantastic scenes of him flying his dog house, fighting enemy Ace flyers, getting shot up, crash landing, and facing harrowing circumstances to work his way back to safety to emerge in a pumpkin patch spoiling the emergence of the fictitious Great Pumpkin, conjured up by Linus. In my view, Snoopy makes the movie! 

What is the Meaning of the Great Pumpkin?

According to an article in the Atlantic, Charles M. Shultz was deeply religious, but also welcomed religious debate. The article states that over 500 Peanuts comic strips had a religious mention, while only 61 featured Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown. The Great Pumpkin is a religious metaphor offered by Schultz to symbolize belief without seeing, or faith in other words. In the movie, Linus explains that The Great Pumpkin travels around the world delivering gifts to children who are “sincere and believe.”  Sound familiar? Santa Claus and The Easter Bunny are all similar metaphors and represent a belief in God and the “gifts” of God. The use of the Great Pumpkin was Charles M. Shultz’s way of suggesting that there are some things worth believing in, even if you don’t have proof or are mocked by others for your beliefs.  

What is the Theme or Lesson Learned from “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown?”

Many people have attempted to offer up their version of the meaning or lesson learned from “It’s the Great, Pumpkin Charlie Brown.” Throughout the movie, Charles M. Schultz presents us with dissatisfaction after dissatisfaction: Charlie Brown gets rocks, not candy, his ghost costume is ruined, kids make fun of Linus for his beliefs, Linus does not see the Great Pumpkin and misses trick or treating, and so on. These situations are not resolved by the end of the movie. The audience is left without closure, unlike in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” where Charlie Brown and his friends discover the true meaning of Christmas at the end. I think Max Burbank summed it up best in his post on the subject when he wrote: ”Why learn the lesson of experience if it yields us nothing? False hope trumps nihilism (see definition below) because false, though it may be, is still hope. In the end, it’s the struggle for sincerity and not the sincerity itself that makes the pumpkin patch truly worthy.” 

That’s a pretty heavy thought, certainly not one that young children would understand, but in the end, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown it’s just a good cartoon that makes people laugh out loud and ponder a few things. 

Nihilism – a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.