“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” is the Peanuts Halloween holiday special. The story begins with Linus van Pelt writing his annual letter to the Great Pumpkin. According to Linus, the Great Pumpkin is a bit like Santa Claus who “will rise out of the pumpkin patch that is most sincere. He flies through the air and brings toys to all the children of the world.”
For having this belief, Linus is ridiculed. Charlie Brown disbelieves him, though he isn’t rude enough to make fun of him (until the end, when he essentially calls him stupid). Snoopy, however, laughs. Patty condescendingly assures us that the Pumpkin is fake. Lucy threatens Linus with violence if he doesn’t stop talking about the Pumpkin and then refuses to help him mail his letter. Linus eventually convinces Sally to stay with him in the pumpkin patch because she’s stupid and is easily influenced by her attraction to Linus. She will eventually abandon and angrily denounce him when he mistakes Snoopy for the Great Pumpkin and gets her hopes up.
So the Peanuts kids are assholes. They show nothing but contempt for their friend and his beliefs. In fact, Lucy even threatens to violently suppress his beliefs. Sally is shown to be shallow and stupid and ultimate hypocritical. Even Charlie Brown, who is himself constantly ridiculed by others, fails to support his friend. These are horrible characters and a horrible lesson to teach kids.
Moreover, the fact that the Pumpkin never does show up essentially makes Linus’ vigil a joke. Some have said this is a parody of Evangelical Christianity, though Schulz denies it. I can see that, though I personally see it more as a cynical adult mocking children who uncritically believe in Santa, particularly with the specific mention of the Great Pumpkin being drawn by “sincerity” and by the rest of the story being just as cynical.
Indeed, while Linus is engaged in his quest, the other kids go trick-or-treating. They receive an assortment of goodies, except for Charlie Brown, who somehow gets nothing but rocks. The reason, it is implied, is because Charlie Brown’s ghost costume is poorly done. What is the message of this? It’s either the cynical message that life simply craps on some people and, no matter what you do, you will fail if you are one of these people – a great thing to tell kids. Alternatively, this reeks of some sort of quasi-socialist message about the horrible way the poor are treated compared to everyone else.
“Charlie Brown, if you got an invitation, it was a mistake. There were two lists, Charlie Brown: one to invite, and one not to invite. You must have been put on the wrong list.”Again, this is pointless cruelty as there is no lesson that comes from this. Violet doesn’t admit her mistake and end up thankful that Charlie Brown arrived. The other kids don’t mention their outrage at the exclusion of their friend. Essentially, this is just more of the same message that you will be excluded if you are unpopular and that’s ok with everyone else... tough luck kid.
This is what bothers me about the whole Charlie Brown empire. Snoopy is drawn quite cutely and he merchandizes well, but the stories and characters themselves are cruel, unpleasant and uncaring. For the handful of good lessons, such as at the end of the Christmas special, there are dozens of nasty, discouraging messages.
In fact, one of the tests to really see what is going on in a cartoon is to substitute adults into the roles to remove the “cute factor” and then to ask yourself how the show would be perceived. If you put adults into these roles, I think people would at best view this as a dark comedy, but would more likely simply dismiss it as a cruel, unfunny, offensive film like The Invention of Lying.