What a complicated production and releasing background for such an unprepossessing little Peanuts featurette. Warner Bros. has released Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales, an 18-minute short from 2002 commissioned for the ABC Network. I don't know anyone who enjoys these later Peanuts incarnations (even my kids get bored most of the time), and unfortunately, Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales isn't much better...although the Christmas theme does help to artificially amp up the little tots' anticipation factor (they were more excited about Snoopy's picture on the cover than the actual short--nice job, WB marketing). A totally unrelated short, Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown?, has been included...to no avail.
In this five-segment short (Happy Holidays from Snoopy, Yuletide Greetings from Linus, Season's Greetings from Sally, Peace on Earth from Lucy, and Merry Christmas from Charlie Brown), each character hosts a little vignette themed around a Christmas activity: Snoopy wants to partner with Lucy for her skating show; Linus can't decide what kind of letter to write to Santa; Sally believes in "Samantha Claus" before she steals a Christmas tree (that's a nice message for the small fry); Lucy wants presents, and Charlie Brown prepares for Christmas with his little sister Sally.
I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time on Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales--not necessarily because it's so short in running time, but because there just isn't a whole lot of "there" there to discuss (the original A Charlie Brown Christmas is only 26 minutes long, but you could write books about that wonderful short). Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales was apparently commissioned by ABC when they took over the rights from CBS to telecast A Charlie Brown Christmas (I don't know about you, but the classic Peanuts shorts just don't feel right on ABC...or without the Dolly Madison® commercials, either. Colossal blunder, CBS). For years, CBS had been snipping away at the 26-minute original to allow for commercials, so ABC apparently noted viewers' frequent complaints about this and fashioned an hour-long block to accommodate the 1965 original, producing a new documentary hosted by Whoopi Goldberg (to quote another animated Christmas classic, "Why, Santa? Why?") to fill in the rest of the time. That doc aired once, so Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales was commissioned to fill Goldberg's doc spot during the next one-hour airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Subsequently, Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales has already been released twice on DVD.
What's left, then, to discuss with Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales? It's inferior, obviously, to the original Peanuts Christmas classic, substituting fairly flat one-liners and the equivalent of black-out sketches for the original's well-integrated story and genuinely witty situations. The animation seems impossibly ugly and cheap (not cheaply charming like the first), while the jokes are fairly lame (when Sally says she was afraid she was "freaking out" at one point, it was lucky I couldn't find the remote). The three-minutes-and-change running time for each vignette should please all the addle-patted video game junkies out there, but not some kid looking for a half-hour story that might amuse them, or inspire them, or say something meaningful to them about Christmas (which the original A Charlie Brown Christmas does in spades). Let's face it: Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales was designed as filler...and that's exactly how it plays, no more nor less.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.