Home » A Charlie Brown Christmas, cartoon history, and Peanuts animation art

A Charlie Brown Christmas, cartoon history, and Peanuts animation art

As sometimes happens, there’s been a surprise release by the folks at the studio that produces all the Charlie Brown cartoon specials. Even though it precedes Halloween, it’s a celebration of the fan favorite and ultimate mood stabilizer, A Charlie Brown Christmas. Called “Let it Whip, Snoopy”, it captures the opening sequence of the wonderful winter skating scene, and comes with a great storyboard giclee created and signed by Charlie Brown animated specials director and animator Larry Leichliter. Here is the limited edition set:

It is $2400, with a huge amount of work on it and in a teeny edition of 65 and many of the numbers are already spoken for, so it will sell out very quickly. You can find even more info on it and buy it HERE

Here is the opening sequence of the cartoon, (although, let’s be honest, we ALL remember the scene, right?) 

In honor of the release of “Crack the Whip, Snoopy!” release, let’s talk a bit about A Charlie Brown Christmas. 

First off, of course there would be no Peanuts animated specials at all without Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez. Lee Mendelson was the executive producer of many Peanuts specials, but he started out his association with all things Peanuts by approaching Charles Schulz about making a documentary about him and his Peanuts comic strip. He had just done a doc on Willie Mays called A Man Named Mays:  

Charles Schulz, or ‘Sparky’, as his friends called him, had watched and enjoyed it, so they collaborated on the documentary A Boy Named Charlie Brown in 1963. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola approached Mendelson about producing an animated Christmas special for tv, and he immediately called Sparky about creating something featuring the Peanuts characters. Schulz suggested using Bill Melendez, who had worked with Sparky creating some Peanuts Ford Motor Company commercials. Networks weren’t interested in the special.

Then, in April of 1965, the Peanuts characters graced the cover of Time magazine, which increased interest in an animated special, and the clock started ticking. Mendelson and Schulz created an outline for a special in less than a day.

April 9th, 1965 Time Cover

They created the first and most classic cartoon in only 6 months, with the script having been whipped together in only a few weeks.  and it aired on December 9th, 1965.  Schulz built the idea around ‘the meaning of Christmas’, interspersed with scenes of skating, something he did as a child. He also included a substantive scene in which a bible verse is quoted, and though there were a few specials that specifically mentioned Christianity, this was the first animated cartoon to incorporate religion in its plot and structure.

It won both an Emmy and Peabody Award. It got both high ratings and critical acclaim. Lee Mendelson actually wrote the lyrics to the Christmas classic ‘Christmastime is Here’ in only minutes. 

It is so fitting that Mendelson wrote such an enduring Christmas classic, as, in a bittersweet endnote, Lee just died on Christmas Day of 2019. I interviewed him about his work a few years ago, and you can watch him talk about all this himself (and watch me all excited talking to him!):

The cartoon was anything but ordinary. They did a lot of ‘outside the box’ decisions as part of it, like hiring voice actors that were children, having no laugh track (Schulz’s idea), and using jazz as the soundtrack. It seems to all make sense now, since we’ve seen it so many times (it has played every year at Christmas since 1965) but at the time everyone thought it would fail miserably. 

I talked to Bill Melendez’s son Steve about working on the Christmas special, and he relates how he came up with the scene with Linus sharing the message of Christmas onstage. 

Since Larry Leichliter is responsible for the design of the new limited edition as well as the storyboard that accompanies it, I asked him about his love of the Christmas special, and about creating the storyboard. 

What makes “A Charlie Brown Christmas” special to you?

Larry: “First of all It’s a Christmas cartoon. Not that I love every Christmas cartoon, but it’s Peanuts, and I’ve always loved Peanuts. What makes it special and have such longevity is not the nostalgia of remembering being a kid and watching this show for the first time, although that’s a wonderful memory. I think for all of us, It’s a story that forever rings true. 

I love watching Charlie Brown wrestle with his problem, with the help of his friend Linus. His encounters with the realities of the world and its insensitivity to his plight are tragic and funny and he makes me root for him every time. Then there is Linus, who sticks by him like a true friend. He ultimately always shows him the way to his answer and a release from his problem.” 

Who is your favorite character in Peanuts? 

“Linus has always been my favorite Peanuts character. The combination of his vulnerability (he is a thumb-sucking, blanket-hugging child, after all) and his knowledge and philosophical beyond-his-years personality is irresistible. He is Charlie Brown’s truest friend. Even Snoopy isn’t as loyal.”

How did you compose the storyboard, and what do you love about creating them? it really captures a moment fans love from the cartoon.

“Thanks! I love showing some of the “behind the scenes” elements of making cartoons. In this case, I couldn’t decide right away just what moment of the skating scene would be ideal for our project, so it was suggested that I might pose out the “crack the whip” sequence in a story board. Then it was just a matter of showing the characters adding onto the chain until they all inevitably fly off. I think it captures not only the nostalgia, but also what is funny and charming about the special as a whole.” 

If you want to get a sense of Larry and his great career, you can watch my discussion with him and Sandy Thome, head of art development for all things relating to Charlie Brown animated cartoons. Beyond being incredibly talented, he’s quite shy, and a lovely guy. 

We have other Peanuts animation art, and of course, we can always find cels based on what you’re looking for (though, not from the Christmas special, not anymore!) check out what we have right now HERE, and contact us for special requests.

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