On Monday night, ABC will air How The Grinch Stole Christmas. On Tuesday night, ABC will air A Charlie Brown Christmas.
So even though Thanksgiving is barely past, it’s time to stake a claim:
I think Grinch is a superior cartoon showcase for its characters than Charlie Brown is for its pint-sized protagonists. Here are my reasons.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) was produced and directed by Bill Melendez, based, of course, on Charles Schulz’s beloved characters in the comic strip Peanuts. It featured a voice-cast of mostly “real” (i.e., not professional) children. It had a jazzy music score by Vince Gueraldi. By all reports, Schulz himself liked the half-hour.
But to me, A Charlie Brown Christmas sentimentalized Schulz’s characters in a way that Schulz himself rarely did in his comic strip — at least, during the first half of his comic strip’s run. I admire the fact that the TV cartoon includes quotations from the Bible (and specifically the King James Version, the way to go in Bible translations, by my standards), making it one of the few cartoons that actually acknowledges the religious tradition behind the holiday. (CBS was freaked out about this element, but such was Schulz’s power then, that he prevailed.) However, A Charlie Brown Christmas over-simplified Charlie’s character — he’s just a sap, a victim, a whiner. Beyond this, I also dislike the music. The pop-jazz score is indeed unusual, but it’s also intrusive and irritating. Who, before this cartoon aired, ever read a Peanuts comic-strip collection and heard jazz in his or her head? Classical music, maybe — that’s what Schroeder was there for. But more likely, blissful silence would have been better. And I think the silly dance in Christmas, with many of the characters wiggling around, is just a foolish time-waster. A Charlie Brown Christmas is sincere and well-meaning, but it doesn’t come close to equalling that Charles Schulz pulled off regularly in his comic strip: funny melancholy.
By contrast, How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), co-directed by Chuck Jones and Ben Washam, is both faithful to the Dr. Seuss source-material and opens up new avenues of pleasure. The narration by Boris Karloff is superb, a great example of a marvelous voice enhancing Seuss’ impeccable rhymes. And the music score by Albert Hague, including songs such as “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” adds to my pleasure, unlike Charlie‘s score, which for me is a distraction. I also think the work of Jones, the veteran Warner Bros. animator and creator of classic Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Road Runner cartoons, is more finely detailed than the stiffer animation overseen by Charlie Brown co-producers Melendez and Lee Mendelson.
Don’t get me wrong. I think A Charlie Brown Christmas is a perfectly fine entertainment. I’m not trying to set up one of those “Charlie Brown sucks, Grinch rules!” pseudo-”controversial” posts. I’m just putting it out there: When it comes to choosing between these two works of popular art, I prefer Grinch as the superior work.
What do you think?