October through December is definitely “prime time” for any animation fan who loves classic TV specials. Our favorite stories revolving around Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas return each year like familiar old friends.
However, it’s easy to forget that we don’t have to wait another eight to ten months to enjoy such specials again. Through the years, several familiar cartoon faces have also offered up prime-time TV specials for Valentine’s Day.
A list of just some of the “love”-ly animated television special offerings through the years follows.
Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown (1975)
Would any holiday feel complete if there wasn’t a Peanuts TV special to go along with it? Arriving in the timeline after the Christmas, Halloween, and Thanksgiving specials and just before the “Easter Beagle” made his appearance, came this Valentine’s Day outing for Charlie Brown and the gang.
Initially airing January 28th, 1975, on CBS, this special revolves around two different plots, Linus having a crush on his schoolteacher, Miss Othmar, and buying a box of chocolates to give to her. Also, Charlie Brown is so excited about Valentine’s being given out at school he brings a briefcase to better carry his haul of cards back home.
Well, of course, Charlie Brown gets no Valentine cards, and Linus never gets to give his teacher the chocolates (in frustration, he throws them off a bridge one-by-one, where Snoopy and Woodstock eat them).
On the day after Valentine’s Day, the gang comes over to Charlie Brown’s house, feeling bad that they snubbed him the day before and present him with a belated Valentine’s Day card. Schroeder sticks up for Charlie Brown with a long defensive speech that ends with, “Well, let me tell you something, Charlie Brown doesn’t need your-.“ At this point, Charlie Brown interrupts, stepping in front of Schroeder, exclaiming, “Don’t listen to him! I’ll take it!”
A very poignant, relatable moment, as most of the insight from Charles Schulz was.
When Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown first aired, children, felt so bad for Charlie Brown that they sent him their own Valentines.
Now that’s love.
A Special Valentine with the Family Circus (1978)
Cartoonist Bil Keane took the simple, every day, ‘round the house or neighborhood adventures of parents Bil and Thelma (not often referred to by name) and their children Billy, Dolly, Jeffy, and PJ as the centerpiece for some very universal, warm-hearted humor in his comic strip The Family Circus.
After several Peanuts Holiday specials’ successes, the ’70s saw several comic strip characters make the leap from the newsprint page to the TV screen, and The Family Circus was no different.
Their first animated special was A Special Valentine with the Family Circus (which aired February 10, 1978, on NBC). The show pays homage to the fact that Family Circus comes from newspapers by opening on the comic pages, all shown in black and white, except for The Family Circus color panel.
In the special, all the kids create Valentines to give to their parents. When toddler PJ reveals his to be no more than scribbles, his brothers and sister laugh, hurting PJ’s feelings. When the older siblings feel bad, they attempt to create a Valentine on PJ’s behalf that will be truly special. However, their dog Barfy gets involved with disastrous results. But never fear, when the kids all present their parents with Valentines, there is a happy ending that genuinely speaks to what constitutes a gift that comes from the heart.
With its slower pace and story, the special is somewhat different from others, and fans of the comic strip and animation will appreciate this 30-minute flashback.
It may not have the “re-watchability” of Charlie Brown, but there’s no denying that A Special Valentine with the Family Circus is like the comic strip itself: all heart.
The Popeye Valentine Special: Sweethearts at Sea (1979)
This special comes from the “Hanna-Barbera era of Popeye.” From 1978 to 1982, the studio that ruled Saturday morning animation for many decades brought the famous Sailor Man back for an all-new show.
This special was produced during that time, airing on Valentine’s Day, 1979, on CBS. It centers on Popeye attempting to win Olive’s hand, or win it back, after he forgets to send her a Valentine.
The upset Olive decides to go on a Valentine’s Day cruise to meet “Mr. Right.” Of course, also on the cruise is Bluto, and he and Popeye battle for Olive’s affections.
Sweethearts at Sea features fuller animation than usually seen in a Hanna-Barbera outing (particularly in a sequence where Popeye battles the Sea Hag, underwater, after she has transformed into an octopus).
Additionally, Jack Mercer, who had been voicing Popeye since 1935, is featured as the title character. The actor returned for the Hanna-Barbera “re-boot,” which connects this special (and the Saturday morning show) nicely to Popeye’s history.
The special features the other Popeye “stock players,” as well as the regular HB voice actors, such as Olive (Marilyn Schreffler, who also voices the Sea Hag), Bluto (Allan Melvin), and Wimpy (Daws Butler).
With Popeye and Olive’s romance at its center, Sweethearts at Sea fully embraces Valentine’s Day. It also celebrates its characters and is a great “throwback” to a specific, comforting period in Hanna-Barbera history.
Another Hanna-Barbera outing, this one from the prime time of “Smurfmania,” when the popular, little, lovable blue characters, created by artist Peyo, inspired one of the studio’s most popular and long-running Saturday morning shows.
During this period, The Smurfs starred in this special, airing February 13, 1983, on NBC. As Valentine’s Day comes to the Smurfs village, Smurfette (Lucille Bliss) wishes for a “Prince Smurfing” of her own. She writes a letter to cupid, but it winds up in the hands of the villainous Gargamel (Paul Winchell) . He decides to kidnap Smurfette, and it’s then up to all the other Smurfs to rescue her and save Valentine’s Day.
The special has all the charm and whimsy of The Smurfs series. It’s fun to see the Smurf village covered in snow as they prepare their Valentines. Additionally, creating a fantasy/adventure plot is ingenious, including additional characters, such as the witch, Chlorhydris (Amanda McBroom), and Cupid himself (the always hysterical Joe Besser).
My Smurfy Valentine is as good-natured as it all sounds, even in its conclusion, when Cupid decides not to fire an arrow at “Grouchy Smurf,” stating, “I have to save something for next year!”
The Flintstones: I Yabba Dabba Do (1993)
One of Hanna-Barbera’s most iconic shows returned to prime time for this special. While it may not be specifically themed to Valentine’s Day, it’s still very appropriate for this time of year (it even aired February 7th, 1993, on ABC).
In the special, Pebbles (Megan Mullally) and Bamm-Bamm (Jerry Houser), now grown adults, decide to marry. When Fred and Wilma and Barney and Betty stress about how they will pay for the wedding (through a series of financial misadventures), Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm run off to elope in “Rock Vegas,” this leads to Fred and Barney venturing to “Rock Vegas,” to find their kids.
With its more expressive animation and feature-length run time, it’s nice to see familiar characters in a “larger” setting provided by I Yabba Dabba Do. Additionally, the movie/special embraces so much of what’s familiar about The Flintstones (such as the theme song and “talking” appliances and machines).
There’s also a nice, poignant connection to the original series, particularly when Fred has a brief “flashback” to Pebbles as a baby.
I Yabba-Dabba-Do was a hit when it first aired, and it’s easy to see why. There’s a lot of love in the special and a lot of love for The Flintstones.
This is just a brief list of a few of a few the animated Valentine’s Day specials from down through the years. They may not be as filling as an oversized box of chocolates, but they’re just as sweet, with a lot fewer calories.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
There was also a 1981 Pink Panther special, “Pink at First Sight”.
Thanks for this post! It reminds me that I was growing up during a much more innocent time. It’s hard to imagine one of the “big” 3 networks devoting an hour or two of primetime to what essentially amounted to children’s programming. This would/could never happen today. I think we are lesser for the loss.
You forgot “A Charlie Brown Valentine” and “The Berenstain Bears’ Comic Valentine.”
“A Charlie Brown Valentine” was released in 2002, so perhaps Lyons felt it was too recent for this retrospective.
Jack Mercer wasn’t the original voice of Popeye. It was William “Billy” Costello known as “Red Pepper Sam”
Charlie Brown taking the pity valentine despite Schroder defending his self-esteem comes straight from the comic strip, except it was just Violet instead of the whole gang (before the Little Red-Headed Girl, Violet was the designated cute one). Most of the gags in the specials were ported over from the strip: CB waiting by the mailbox was a running gag for years. I know it wasn’t run near Valentine’s Day, but “You’re In Love Charlie Brown” always felt like the definitive statement on love.
I remember the era of half-hour animated specials, originally bunched at Christmas but eventually spreading out. At least some of them looked like series pilots.
The comic strip entries included Hagar the Horrible, Cathy, B.C, For Better or Worse, and Blondie as well as the more ambitious Doonesbury and Pogo. There were several late-period Looney Tunes specials, many of them clips from theatrical shorts with new connecting animation.
There were two attempts at Betty Boop, who had become a merchandising icon despite her B&W toons falling into obscurity. The first ignored the originals and made her a 30s golddigger in a non-Fleischer movie parody. The second revived Koko and Bimbo and at least tried to echo the Fleischers with a look influenced by more current takes on 30s cartooning.
Some of the comic strip specials can be found on a few Hearst Entertainment DVD releases, bundled with syndicated TV cartoons of Krazy Kat, Beetle Bailey, and Snuffy Smith along with episodes of “Defenders of the Earth”.
I applaud your choices, representing as they do the best of the genre. I remember that Pink Panther Valentine’s Day special, and it was pretty depressing. He lives in a slum, has a thankless job as a bicycle messenger, and periodically has romantic visions of a beautiful pink pantheress. In the end the two of them walk off together into the night; but I couldn’t help being reminded of the Italian novel IL GATTOPARDO (The Leopard), in which the prince keeps catching glimpses of a beautiful, elusive woman who in the end turns out to be the spectre of death. Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody!
Weird weird stuff.
Does the Pith Possum episode, “Haunt of the Night of Blacker Darkness”, count as a Valentines’ Day special? I’ve been rooting for Peter Possum and Doris Deer as a couple, even if the entire S&M series fizzled after its 13-episode run.
Very nice list! I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of The Family Circus animated holiday specials before. Thanks for the post, Michael.