Pumpkin the Great

Every year since 1966, a half-hour special has come on TV, featuring a gang of oversized-headed children and a beagle celebrating the advent of the final day of October.

Viewing this special this evening, after a few years away from it, I began to ask myself why this is.

In 37 years there has never emerged a comparable television special, nor has a digitally remastered version of the one in question been made. The audio is scratchy, the dialogue is dated, and the animation appears to have been scribbled hastily as an ever-looming deadline approached.

Don't get me wrong, I love cartoons as much as the next guy with an Itchy and Scratchy t-shirt on. But with animated entertainment, I have a few qualifications that must first be met.

  1. Must be entertaining.

    Entertainment can take many forms. One-liner jokes, physical gags, even a show so painfully awful you just have to laugh all fall into this category. The Great Pumpkin attempts these in mediocrity, at best.
  2. Must be coherent.

    Nothing's more taxing than trying to follow a story concocted by a bunch of dope-smoking hippies with a few thousand blank animation cells at their disposal. 10-minute tangents with no progression of storyline or meaningful character development suggest that there was some time to fill in the 22-minute block.
  3. Title characters must appear at some point during the program.

    Sure, there's a suspense factor the first time around, but after a few years, one tends to forget that "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" stars approximately one Charlie Brown and zero Great Pumpkins. And frankly, I wasn't too excited when ol' Chuck was on screen.

I'm willing to exercise a little bit of slack for this program, considering its age, but it was difficult for me to be entertained by this programming, largely due to the offensive audio track that accompanied the crude on-screen animation. For starters, the musical score is always present. A little *too* present.

I was reminded of the score from the Jetsons, a show I watched as a kid. Looking back on it now, I don't recall it being very entertaining, either. I guess it was just on and I was yearning to have Cookie Crisp sold to me subliminally.

Now, jazz waltz is something I can rock out to any time of day, especially when it's from an authentic historical era like the mid 1960's, but not at full-volume while I'm trying to decipher what a bunch of kids are yell-acting at each other into a single unidirectional microphone.

Then there's the side plot of Snoopy, masquerading as a WWI fighter pilot, engaging in aerial combat, being shot down, and traversing the (French?!) countryside with no apparent destination. The entirety of the aerial combat took place much like a live-action version of the same scene would have: blue-screen style. The camera rocks back and forth to indicate increasing or decreasing altitude, and the clouds and bullets whiz by in a tragically uninspired fashion.

With cel animation, the producers aren't tied to conventional presentations unless they are too lazy to inject any personal inspiration into the project.

I guess they were too lazy to tie the combat scenes with the other plots of the presentation, either. I'm still trying to figure out why that was happening in front of me.

Some of the dialogue is a bit dated, too. At one point, one of the characters welcomes another to the 20th century. If this was still going on in '66, I guess there's no hope of these pesky millennial references going away any time soon. Also, the word 'blockhead' was used on about a dozen occasions. The boundaries of television have expanded much since this special was produced. An acceptable modern equivalent would have each child calling the others a**holes.

And I still don't get the parenting techniques promoted in this program. I believe the French would term it laissez-faire parenting. To be neither seen nor heard is bliss. As a future father, I would never have my elementary-aged son or daughter stay out in a pumpkin patch until 4 AM waiting for a hallucination appear before him, especially in the 47-degree chills of early autumn.

The most baffling thing about this is that no animator between 1966 and the present ever thought to himself, "Hey, I could make a Hallowe'en-themed children's special that's better than this." The entertainment industry is basically telling us, with a shrug, "This is the best we could come up with."

This is the only possible explanation for why it's still being broadcast on an annual basis for nigh on four decades. It's apparently a classic and beloved by millions. I just want to know how, and why.

And how.

Zero Great Pumpkins. One of life's lessons taught through the Peanuts gang. Life is full of disappointment. There's no Great Pumpkin, you're getting rocks instead of candy, your parents don't exist, and you've got a receding hairline before you've finished 5th grade. Stay tuned for "Suicide's the Answer, Charlie Brown"

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