Animation Cel-ebration
October 10, 2023 posted by Michael Lyons

A Hallowed Halloween Treat: “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”

The success of A Charlie Brown Christmas in December of 1965 was both a success and a challenge. The now-iconic Christmas special was a tremendous hit for CBS. Another popular special, Charlie Brown’s All-Stars, followed in the spring of 1966. The network soon approached producer Lee Mendelson and Peanuts creator Charles “Sparky” Schulz about making a third special. “When Lee went to the networks to propose a third show. The networks said to him that they could do whatever they wanted. But, they wanted another blockbuster,” said Peanuts historian Scott McGuire, in the documentary, We Need Another Blockbuster, Charlie Brown! The Making of The Great Pumpkin.

Another blockbuster?!? A Charlie Brown Christmas, seen by 45% of those watching television when it was first shown in 1965, was the second highest-rated show that week (coming in behind NBC’s immensely popular western, Bonanza). It then went on to win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Program.

For this new special they were working on, what could come close to that? Mendelson and Schulz met with Bill Melendez (the noted animation director of the first two Peanuts specials) to brainstorm ideas. “Bill, the animator, said Halloween would be kind of fun because we could do all the costumes and trick or treating, and that would lend itself to animation. And then Sparky all of a sudden stood up with great excitement and said, ‘The Great Pumpkin!’,” recalled Mendelson in the documentary.

And so was born the story of It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, a TV special that’s become so ingrained in our Halloween season that it can be easily quoted verbatim by multiple generations.

The special tells the comfortably familiar tale of Linus eagerly awaiting his annual visit from The Great Pumpkin, a Santa Claus-like being who, according to Linus, if one waits in the pumpkin patch, The Great Pumpkin “…flies through the air and brings toys to all the children of the world!”

Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally, is so smitten with Linus, she elects to give up her night of trick-or-treating to wait in the pumpkin patch with him.

Charlie Brown goes trick or treating with Lucy and the other kids, and attends Violet’s Halloween party. He attempts to go as a ghost but has some “trouble with the scissors.” Instead of cutting just one eye hole, he cuts a whole series of them. While all the other kids get candy, in true Charlie Brown fashion, he gets a rock from each house.

Sadly, The Great Pumpkin never comes, and a furious Sally leaves a chilly and desperate Linus in the pumpkin patch. Undeterred, as the special ends, Linus rails about the fact that he has not given up hope and will wait for The Great Pumpkin again, next year.

There are other moments in the special that are now part of our collective memories: Linus jumping into a pile of leaves with a wet lollipop and Lucy pulling the football out from under Charlie Brown, just as he is about to kick it (a gag popular in the comic strip brought to animation for the first time here). Then there’s Snoopy’s fantasy sequence, where he portrays his idol, a World War I Flying Ace, who finds his plane/doghouse in a fierce dogfight with The Red Baron. He is shot down and makes his way across the “Countryside” (in a scene filled with moody, watercolor backgrounds) to find his way to the Halloween party.

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown originally aired on CBS on October 27th, 1966. It was so successful, it was then broadcast after on one of the major networks each year for fifty-four years, until recently when it was exclusively shown on the Apple+ streaming service (last year, it was shown on PBS to make it available to all).

In the five and a half decades since its first broadcast, The Great Pumpkin has inspired innumerable products and merchandise, including plush toys, coffee mugs, board games, ornaments, and limited-edition artwork, just to name a few.

It’s also inspired those who have grown up with the TV special. This writer’s first glimpse into the impact of The Great Pumpkin came at a Halloween party 35 years ago when a guest showed up in a sheet cut with multiple holes and wearing a sign that read, “All I got was a rock!” Just one of the many, now indelible moments from It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, that has woven its way into the fabric of Halloween celebrations.

Over fifty years after its debut, the beloved special is now an integral part of this time of year. When the show first begins, with the Peanuts kids trick or treating, while ghostly images float in the sky, as Vince Guaraldi’s brilliant score (infused with ethereal flute notes) plays, it all feels like a clarion call heralding the official start of Halloween.

It seems as if CBS got the blockbuster they wanted.

For more GREAT PUMPKIN research – check out Greg Ehrbar’s Animation Spin


  • I’m not only remember the comics panels that were used for dialogue from this wonderful special, I remember owning a hardcover addition of the story of “it’s the great pumpkin, Charlie Brown“. In fact, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that this hardcover book Marked the first time that we actually saw stills used as illustrations in such a story. It was a wonderful book!

  • I remember reading a story that Schulz told about whenever the Great Pumpkin aired, the next day viewers would send bags of candy to his studio for poor ol’ Charlie Brown.

  • That Red Baron sequence must have been the biggest challenge to adapt from the strip to animation. And my sympathy for Charlie Brown was tempered by the absurd image in my mind of lugging around a heavy bag filled to overflowing with rocks. (Maybe he had to use a wheeled carrier as he did with “War And Peace” in Happy New Year, Charlie Brown?).

  • I was in the grocery store yesterday.and they had the great pumpkin Charlie brown ceral.I had big smile on my face when I saw it.

    • Unfortunately, the best thing about the cereal is the box, IMO.
      Also, I know it’s Halloween-themed, but I wish it was called “Snicker Snacks” (too much of a “deep cut”?).

    • I saw that too, but it just didn’t strike me as sincere.

  • The ONLY thing i didn’t like about the “Special” is that Charlie Brown ALWAYS got rocks instead of candy – or at least seemed to, based on that adventure. If he was the town bully or something, I get it! If he went to the neighborhood where Lucy’s other friends lived, I get that too, but, I always thought – even as a kid – that this was too much!

    The “Red Baron” sequence? Probably one of my favorite pieces of animation – of ALL time!

  • Ray Bradbury watched the show with his family and said that they were all disappointed. “You can’t call the show ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin’ and then not have the Great Pumpkin show up!” It would be like doing a Christmas special that ends with the revelation that Santa is fake; he said that his daughter ran up and kicked the TV in frustration. Bradbury responded by writing his own script for an animated special, “The Halloween Tree,” which he planned to make with Chuck Jones. It didn’t get made and he rewrote the script as a novel.

    • Bradbury completely missed the point. You might just as well say you can’t write a book about a society where books are illegal.

    • He did write the script and perform the narration for an animated version of The Halloween Tree in the 90’s. Sadly, it’s not great.

  • The Peanuts Christmas and Halloween specials both premiered on a Thursday. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” preempted “The Munsters”, and “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” preempted “My Three Sons”. The Munsters were shown to be fans of the latter series; Grandpa called it his “favourite TV program… all about that crazy mixed-up family that’s always having those weird fantastic adventures!”

    When the Great Pumpkin was introduced in the comic strip, Charlie Brown mocked Linus rather cruelly for his faith. Maybe all those rocks were the Great Pumpkin’s way of exacting cosmic vengeance on unbelievers.

  • Easily a top favorite. Thanks for the very nice writeup.

    I wonder – does this special have any resonance outside the US? I know that A Charlie Brown Christmas is not a big hit in the UK, for example. What about The Great Pumpkin, anyone outside the US want to chime in? (maybe Canada doesn’t count, cultures too entwined)

    • My wife tells me that the Great Pumpkin special aired annually in Australia for many years and is well-regarded here, even though Halloween itself has only started to catch on since the beginning of this century. Even so, it’s only the palest of shadows; we’ve never had more than six trick-or-treaters come to our house, and most years we don’t get any. The holiday loses a lot of its character when it happens in late spring during daylight savings time.

      • Thanks, Paul. Without looking into it, I thought the door to door candy tradition was older than it is, but apparently only started in earnest after WWII. Since that’s the case, I suppose The Great Pumpkin would get less traction outside the US and Canada than I thought it might.

    • The Peanuts comic strip and characters have been very popular in Japan since the 1970s, especially Snoopy. There’s a Snoopy Museum in Tokyo, as well as Snoopy chocolate shops, Peanuts hotels, and much more. Schulz had a licensing deal with the same company that handles Hello Kitty, so you can take it from there.

      Halloween is also huge in Japan. My last trip to Japan was during the month of October, and I got to attend a Halloween festival in the city of Mishima, where the whole downtown area was closed off to traffic. The festival was hosted by Spider-Man and the Joker (Heath Ledger version), whom you hardly ever see together, and they presided over such events as a live reenactment of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. Thousands of people showed up in costume, including a whole family dressed up as Minions; even their dog was a Minion. Children don’t go trick-or-treating from house to house, but in shopping districts some businesses will hand out free giveaways to costumed children in the hopes that they’ll stick around and pay for something they really like. As with Christmas, Halloween in Japan is all about the commercialism.

      “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” has been dubbed into Japanese at least three times, with titles that translate back into English as “It’s Halloween, Charlie Brown”, “The Great Squash King”, and “Snoopy and the Great Squash King”. I can assure you that the special’s theme of never giving up hope, even after your wishes fail to come true time and again, has a deep resonance in Japanese culture. One of my friends there took me to a shrine where people came to write down their wishes on special plaques that were supposed to bring them good luck. He noticed one particular plaque and said: “Hey, one of my students wrote this! He’s wishing for a passing grade in English, but he’s not going to get it! I told you these things don’t work!”

  • The Great Pumpkin. Constantly making a yearly fool of Linus Van Pelt since 1966.

  • The WWI sequence is so evocative .. a sense of dread, desolation and unease unmatched in animation until the invasion scene of Book of Kells.

  • I watched all of these shows w my sister and my little brother on are little black and white tv, and of course the great combination of RANKIN AND BASS FOR THERE NUMEROUS CHILDREN TV SHOWS ALSO !! It so sad these shows aren’t on regular tv for all generations to watch and come together and enjoy 😊 because no matter how old or young everyone enjoys these shows if you are older it brings back wonderful memories and if you are young it’s the beginning of new memories… certain tv shows should be shown every single yr because they are first off classics but more than that bring families and friends together to appreciate there time they spend with one another which you can never put a price tag on because they become ingrained in our hearts.

    • It’s hard to explain to post-home video generations what a big deal it was when these shows aired annually. You really did schedule around them.

  • Some dedicated soul has put together YouTube videos showing which scenes from Peanuts specials are taken directly from the strips. Here’s the link for their “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” comparison:

  • A fragment of a Porky Pig cartoon that I made up for Halloween eight years ago:


    (With apologies to both Charles M.s – Jones and Schulz):

    “Who-who-who-who are you? Wh-wh-wh-what are you doing in my pya-pya-pya-pya-pumpkin patch?”

    “My name is Linus van Pelt. I’m waiting for the Great Pumpkin. Every year on Halloween night, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch, and gives out toys to all the children in the world!”

    Porky (disgustedly):

    “Y-y-y-you’re a re-re-re-real lya-lya-lya-lya-Looney Tune, you know that?”

    Happy Halloween!

  • I always feel so lucky that these specials (and “Great Pumpkin” was one of the greatest–certainly the best of the “Peanuts” specials) were created during my childhood, as if specifically for us. I was also a little jealous that the “Peanuts” kids got to do both tricks or treats (I always said it that way because they did) and a party; for most kids it’s either-or. But then parental supervision seems to have been pretty minimal in their world.

    Speaking of which, you have to wonder what kind of warped adult would give poor Charlie Brown a rock for tricks or treats. Maybe they were mean teenagers giving out the candy that year.

  • Always a great show to watch, Charlie Brown and friends. May the shows live on forever.

  • it’s a shame we can’t watch these specials for free anymore!! commercialization has killed it. have to have an apple TV account to watch Sad

    • That’s why dvds are so much fun to own. That way, no greedy corporation can hold my favorite cartoons hostage.

  • Love all the Peanuts specials. Look forward to seeing them every year!!

    • As do I! The Peanuts specials have always been, not only an annual event, but a timeless tradition.

  • I saw something on YouTube or something last night – actually very early this morning – which makes me doubt my senses. It was a parody called THE GREAT LUMPKIN or something. My early teenaged son thought it was funny, but it looked like somebody just messed around with the soundtrack with creating new voices for the characters and a few new snide remarks. The worst was redoing the soundtrack for Snoopy’s dogfight with the Red Baron. I didn’t like any of this “satire” at all. Am I dreaming this – or did I ACTUALLY see it? Really weird and kind of disturbing.

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