As I said, the story of this special is fairly scattered, with the main thread being Linus' belief in the Great Pumpkin, whom he believes rises out of a pumpkin patch on Halloween night and flies around to bring toys to all good little kids. This line of thinking brings him nothing but disbelief and ridicule from the other kids, and violent frustration from Lucy, who hates the way it makes her look, since she's his sister; only Sally, Charlie Brown's little sister, supports him in his belief, although that mainly comes from her infatuation with him. Halloween night finds Linus, as he always does, sitting in the pumpkin patch, waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear, much to the other kids' amusement as they head out to go trick-or-treating, save for Sally, who decides to sit there with Linus. Among other happenings around the neighborhood that night, the kids all get candy (save for Charlie Brown, in his hole-filled ghost costume, who gets nothing more than a bunch of rocks); Snoopy, dressed as the World War I flying ace, imagines he's in an aerial dogfight with his nemesis, the Red Baron, which results in him crashing behind enemy lines and having to navigate his way out; and Violet throws a Halloween party at her house, where Charlie Brown continues to suffer humiliation, despite having been invited like everyone else, and Snoopy joins the festivities as well. And ultimately, Linus' belief in the Great Pumpkin doesn't pan out the way he'd hoped, much to his disappointment and Sally's anger at having missed out on trick-or-treating.
Really, this special should've been called something like A Peanuts Halloween or, more to the point, Linus and the Great Pumpkin, since Charlie Brown is something of a side character here while Linus (voiced by Christopher Shea) is the main focus. In later specials and films, Linus would often be depicted as something of the egghead of the gang, maybe a tad eccentric and childish in his unwillingness to part with his beloved blanket, but certainly someone with a fair amount of common sense who wouldn't believe in something as inexplicable as the Great Pumpkin. Here, though, he has this notion that, on Halloween night, this magical being is going to rise up out of a pumpkin patch and fly around, bringing toys to all the children of the world. No one else believes in his existence other than Linus, leading to a lot of ridicule from those around him, and you have no clue how he came to form this belief or why he thinks this Halloween substitute for Santa Claus is the real holiday gift-giver and any more plausible a figure, but regardless, he's steadfast in his beliefs, going as far as to write letters to the Great Pumpkin (I like how he writes, "If you really are a fake, don't tell me. I don't want to know,") and wait in a pumpkin patch all night on Halloween for him to appear, something he apparently does year after year. As a result, he misses out on the night's festivities like trick-or-treating and a party, and has to be walked into his house and put to bed by Lucy, all for something that never comes to pass. He also has to suffer Sally's wrath for convincing her to stay up all night with him and missing everything Halloween has to offer as well. But, regardless, Linus remains undeterred, going on an angry rant at Charlie Brown at the end when he tries to console him by saying that he's done a lot of similarly "stupid things," saying that he knows for sure that the Great Pumpkin will appear next year and he'll find the best pumpkin patch imaginable to wait for him.
A lot of people interpret Linus' belief in the Great Pumpkin as metaphorical of various types of religious beliefs, be it Christian evangelism in how unshakeable his resolve is and how he tries to get others to believe it as well; any faith that isn't shared by the majority, often leading to ridicule and mockery by others; or for the basic existential problems mankind faces as a whole, believing in and serving something whose existence can't be proven and which never reveals itself anyway. Charles Schulz himself, however, maintained that there was nothing more complicated to it than it being funny to see how Linus has gotten the traditions and mythology of Christmas mixed up with Halloween, to the point where he even asks the other if they're going to sing "pumpkin carols" with him. Indeed, more than anything else, Linus comes across as a naive kid with his own strange sensibilities, seeming to attribute the Great Pumpkin's failure to appear to the sincerity of the pumpkin patch and a moment when, while trying to get the kids to wait for him, he accidentally said, "If the Great Pumpkin comes," rather than "when." Heck, look at the opening, where he's absolutely distraught when Lucy starts carving into the pumpkin they bring home to make a jack-o-lantern, exclaiming, "You didn't tell me you were gonna kill it!", and near the end when he mistakes Snoopy for the Great Pumpkin, even though you could tell it clearly is him in the reverse shot behind Linus and Sally. But, as misguided as he is, you still have to give him credit for sticking to what he believes in, despite all the crap he gets for it. Who knows? Maybe that little moment of disbelief did make some kind of difference.
While nobody else shares Linus' belief in and enthusiasm for the Great Pumpkin, Lucy (voiced by Sally Dryer) absolutely despises it for the ridicule it brings her, being his sister. As she says when she sees he's writing to the Great Pumpkin, "You make me the laughingstock of the neighborhood! All they talk about is my little brother who always writes to the Great Pumpkin," and she threatens him with violence if he doesn't quit it. Linus, of course, is undeterred, and stays in the pumpkin patch all night, in spite of Lucy and the other kids giving him one last chance to come trick-or-treating with them. What I like the most about Lucy in this cartoon is that, even though she's her usual cranky, bullying, killjoy self, she does show some genuine compassion for her brother, asking for some extra treats to set aside for him and, most heartwarming of all, when she wakes up at 4:00 in the morning and sees that Linus is still out in the pumpkin patch, she brings him in and puts him to bed. It's one of the very few genuinely nice things I think I've ever seen her do. Otherwise, though, Lucy is up to her usual antics here: forcing Linus to roll this huge pumpkin to their house by himself during the opening; pulling the football away when Charlie Brown tries to kick it (the first time that was ever done in animation) and tricking him into doing so with a signed document where she testifies that she won't pull it away, explaining afterward, "Peculiar thing about this document: it was never notarized,"; killing Charlie Brown's enthusiasm at being invited to Violet's Halloween party, telling him, "Charlie Brown, if you got an invitation, it was a mistake. There were two lists, Charlie Brown: one to invite, and one not to invite. You must have been put on the wrong list,"; failing to recognize the irony when she proclaims, "A person should always choose a costume which is in direct contrast to her own personality," and then puts on an ugly witch mask; humiliating Charlie Brown when she and Violet use the back of his head as the model for a jack-o-lantern; and, once again, getting much closer to Snoopy than she ever wanted to when she bobs for apples and the two of them grab the same one on opposite sides with their mouths. Incidentally, there's a moment where she's looking at a TV Guide, one which, if you pay close attention to it, has her on the cover!
When Sally (voiced by Kathy Steinberg) talks to Linus when he's writing to the Great Pumpkin and she refers to his claims about him as a "good story," Linus says, "You don't believe the story of the Great Pumpkin? I thought little girls always believed everything that was told to them. I thought little girls were innocent and trusting." While Sally does have a very mature, smart remark of, "Welcome to the 20th century!", she does prove herself to be just as naive as Linus thought when she suggests at one point that the Great Pumpkin may actually be real and ultimately does decide to stay with him in the pumpkin patch, although it's mostly due to her infatuation with him. Interestingly, here, Linus appears to really enjoy her company and hope she'll stay with him, rather than being embarrassed by her like usual. Moreover, Sally, in spite of her clear affection for him, has her limits, like when she growls at him, "If you try to hold my hand, I'll slug you!", and becomes more and more impatient with him as the evening wears on. By the time Linus mistakes Snoopy for the Great Pumpkin, Sally rips Linus a new one: "Halloween is over, and I missed it! You blockhead! You kept me up all night waiting for the Great Pumpkin, and all that came was a beagle! I didn't get a chance to go out for tricks or treats. And it was all your fault! I'll sue! What a fool I was! I could have had candy apples and gum and cookies and money and all sorts of things. But no! I had to listen to you, you blockhead. What a fool I was! Trick or treats come only once a year, and I missed it by sitting in a pumpkin patch with a blockhead." The best part of this, though, comes when she grabs him by the shirt and shakes him, yelling at the top of her lungs, "You owe me restitution!", proving to Linus once and for all that the fury of a woman scorned is, "Nothing compared to the fury of a woman who has been cheated out of trick-or-treats." Another nice little moment with Sally I have to bring up is when she asks Lucy if trick-or-treating is legal and when she says it is, Sally's response is, "I wouldn't want to be accused of taking part in a rumble." I just always like it when she talks about things and says words that a girl her age wouldn't typically talk about it.
Charlie Brown (voiced by Peter Robbins) may not have that prominent of a role here but, as usual, the poor kid cannot catch a break. Besides Lucy tricking him with the football, other stuff that he goes through includes having the pile of leaves he's raked up ruined when Linus jumps into them, Lucy destroying the joy he has of receiving an invitation to Violet's Halloween party by suggesting that he got invited by mistake, cutting a bunch of holes in the sheet he uses as a ghost costume, being embarrassed when Lucy and Violet use the back of his head as a model for a jack-o-lantern, and, most infamous of all, getting a bunch of rocks while all of the other kids get candy. You actually see the rocks getting tossed into his bag at one point, showing that the people answering their doors were deliberately screwing him over! Maybe they thought a kid with such a crappy costume didn't deserve candy but still, that's harsh! According to Charles Schulz in the 80's documentary, Happy Birthday, Charlie Brown, I'm not the only one who's ever felt that way, as people from all over the world sent in bags and boxes of candy that were meant to be just for Charlie Brown after the special originally aired. I really hope that's true, because it makes me smile. Like the other kids, Charlie Brown feels that Linus is wasting his time believing in the Great Pumpkin (Linus, in turn, chastises him for believing in Santa Claus, prompting him to say, "We're obviously separated by denominational differences,") and the day after Halloween, when he's bummed out about the Great Pumpkin not showing, he tries to cheer his friend up, telling him, "I've done a lot of stupid things in my life, too." That was a mistake, as Linus proceeds to give him an earful, declaring that the Great Pumpkin will appear for sure the next year, and going on and on and on, with the special ending as Charlie Brown can do nothing but sit there and listen, looking like he wants to kill himself.
The first time you see Snoopy (voiced by Bill Melendez) here, he's doing little more than helping Charlie Brown rake leaves by blowing a stray one onto his pile, as well as laughing at Linus' belief in the Great Pumpkin, but he actually ends up having the biggest adventure of any of the characters that night, albeit all in his vivid imagination. Dressing up as the World War I flying ace, he hops atop his doghouse and imagines that he's flying a Sopwith Camel fighter plane in an aerial dogfight with his unseen nemesis, the Red Baron. The sequence portraying his "battle," which would be reused in other Peanuts specials down the road, was described by Lee Mendelson in that same Washington Post interview as, "One of the most memorable animated scenes ever," and it is pretty entertaining to watch Snoopy pretending to shoot at offscreen fighter planes, do flips in "midair," scan beneath him and at his sides, and look back and forth in confusion as the battle becomes more intense. Even after he crashes, Snoopy's fantasy doesn't end, as he then imagines himself wandering around behind enemy lines, swimming through a river, and hiding in the darkness, weeds, and bombed out buildings, eventually coming upon Violet's Halloween party, where he gets into more shenanigans. When Lucy decides to bob for apples, she pulls her head out of the water to find that Snoopy was beneath the water and has his mouth on the other side of the apple she grabbed. As in A Charlie Brown Christmas, Lucy is not at all happy about having gotten so close to a dog's mouth and runs off in a panic, yelling about dog germs. Afterward, Schroeder decides to entertain Snoopy with several World War I songs on the piano, two of which are upbeat and cheerful, prompting Snoopy to dance happily, while the other are much more solemn and somber, causing Snoopy to break down in tears and wander out of the house (this scene would be really expanded upon in the movie, Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown). Going back to pretending to be behind enemy lines, Snoopy sneaks into the pumpkin patch and the sound of his rustling excites Linus. When he slowly rises up nearby, Linus mistakes him for the Great Pumpkin and faints in his excitement, while Sally is not at all happy to see that she spent an entire night in a pumpkin patch to just catch a glimpse of her and Charlie Brown's dog; Snoopy, meanwhile, wanders off and is not seen again for the rest of the show.
The other members of the Peanuts gang who appear here serve as little more than either bit parts or cameos. Violet (voiced by Ann Altieri) surprises everyone, particularly Charlie Brown himself, when she invites him to her Halloween party, although that doesn't stop her and Lucy from both embarrassing and enraging him when they use the back of his head as a model for a jack-o-lantern; notably, instead of ridiculing Linus for his belief in the Great Pumpkin, Violet simply thinks of it as being "strange." Patty (voiced by Lisa DeFaria), like Charlie Brown, tries to tell Linus when he's writing to the Great Pumpkin that he's just wasting his time, and later, she talks Charlie Brown into being the model, saying he'll be perfect but not bothering to let on what they want him to model for. Pig-Pen (voiced by Gail DeFaria) tries to fool everybody when he shows up wearing a ghost sheet but the ever-present dust cloud around him gives him away (by the way, if you look closely at him when the kids are about to bob for apples at the party, you can tell that he's wearing glasses, which is unusual for him). Schroeder (voiced by Glenn Mendelson) doesn't much significant other than play some tunes on his piano for Snoopy, although according to IMDB's quotes section, he's the one who tells Lucy from offscreen that she has the perfect mouth for bobbing for apples. Finally, Frieda (voiced by Ann Altieri) and a kid whom I've never heard of named Shermy (voiced by Glenn Mendelson) are also there just as extras.
Obviously, you don't watch a Peanuts cartoon or movie for really amazing animation, as it's almost always very simple, both in the characters' movements (some notable exceptions here include Charlie Brown's happy dance upon learning that he received an invitation to Violet's Halloween party and Snoopy's dancing to Schroeder's piano) and in their facial features. Speaking of which, when you look at the character designs, especially in the way their faces are drawn, you can tell that the animators were coming off of what they'd established in A Charlie Brown Christmas and, as a result, it's still a bit rough. It'd be a few more years before they'd really refine the characters' looks and come up with the well-established, sophisticated ones we're most familiar with. They also recycle some animation from Christmas when Lucy freaks out after she realizes her mouth was on the same apple that Snoopy was biting and the voice acting, while as serviceable as you'd expect it to be, has some instances of awkwardness. For me, Sally Dryer's delivery as Lucy is sometimes a bit flat, like when she first sees all of the holes in Charlie Brown's ghost costume and says, "Oh, good grief," and when, upon being told that Snoopy's costume is that of a World War I flying ace, "Now I've seen everything." Also, when Linus thinks he hears the sound of the Great Pumpkin rustling, he says, "What's that?" twice in a row but it's obvious that they just repeated the same line reading. On the plus side, though, Kathy Steinberg, whose performance as Sally in Christmas was unavoidably stilted because she was so young that she couldn't read and had to be given the dialogue one line at a time, had drastically improved by the time they got here and manages to give Sally more spunk and life, especially when she's angry at Linus. Finally, as always, the interiors of the houses are drawn very simplistically, the backgrounds often nothing more than a solid color, with a line and a different shade used to show where the wall ends and the floor begins.
However, the exteriors are given a lot more detail and atmosphere, to the point where every frame of them looks like an absolute work of art. The opening with Linus and Lucy really gives you that undeniable feeling of autumn, with the pinkish sky and red sunset in the background, the leaves on the ground, the bare trees, and the pumpkin patch they walk to. What's more, if you watch the background carefully during this sequence, you can see it slowly but surely go from that pink, late fall afternoon to a dark purple-colored dusk. The other daytime exterior scenes also have that fall feeling but I don't think they compare to the nighttime scenes, such as when the kids are out trick-or-treating and when Linus and Sally are sitting in the pumpkin patch, as you can see a black and purple, cloudy sky in the background, often with a big full moon somewhere in the picture as well. But even those are bested by what you see when Snoopy is imagining he's been shot down behind enemy lines by the Red Baron. You see him running through fields, hiding in trenches behind barbwire, hiding behind rocks, and laying atop a hay bale, with the sky growing darker and darker behind him until it becomes nighttime, again with a full moon in the background. Later on, you see him wade through a river, cross enormous, wide open fields, and hide within the ruins of a bombed house, the sky going from dark and cloudy to clear and blue, with that ever-present moon. Again, any one of these scenes would look lovely hung up on a wall in a frame, and I like the bit of shadow play they do here and there when Snoopy's hiding, as he becomes a black-colored silhouette and all you can see are his eyes. The shot of him rising up out of the pumpkin patch in the foreground, completely black, with Linus and Sally watching in the background with the moon behind them, is a really cool image, as well as a tad bit eerie when taken out of context.
There are notable moments where the colors and animation do get more extravagant than usual. One such moment is after the opening, where you see kids in their Halloween costumes, trick-or-treating, when they get dogged by bats coming out of a creepy, rundown house behind them and, as they run, the background becomes ethereal astro-turf, as floating see-through jack-o-lanterns, dancing skeletons, a big black cat cutout, and a witch terrorize them. They eventually run into a pumpkin patch and the title appears, as they peek out from behind it and weeds, with a big, hooting owl coming off his tree branch and right at the camera. Another one is the World War I flying ace's battle with the Red Baron. It starts off pretty innocuous, with Snoopy sitting atop his doghouse, pretending it's a fighter plane, the sky scrolls behind him, the image shakes, and the angle tilts a bit, as if he's taking off, but when the "attack" occurs, the colors on him and the doghouse change from purple to blue and finally red as the scene goes on, the animation on him becomes a little more bouncy as he mimes firing machine guns, he appears to actually do a complete turn in mid-air, and you see bullets streaming at him from behind and shooting holes into the house. This leads to smoke billowing out of its rear, the house shaking and rumbling, and the angle slanting as if he's heading towards the ground, only for it to correct itself and pull back a bit to reveal that it was indeed all in his imagination and he never left the ground.
My favorite thing about The Great Pumpkin is how it's so steeped within the holiday of Halloween and, as a result, brings back fond memories of when I was a kid and loved that holiday, right from the opening, where Linus and Lucy walk into a pumpkin patch and Lucy forces him to bring back the biggest one in the entire patch. Having trouble carrying it and getting around the wooden fence with it, he ultimately decides to roll it back to the house, but even that turns out to be a chore when it rolls too fast and drags him with it, his body rolling over with it. Having no sympathy for his plight, Lucy then forces him to carry the thing into the house and place it on some sheets she laid on the floor, where she proceeds to carve it open and start emptying the seeds, something I can remember doing many times with my mother (although, I didn't have the reaction that Linus did when she gutted it). And right after the opening, you have Snoopy walking around, blowing a floating leaf through the air, until it lands on a pile that Charlie Brown's been raking. I must confess, I never had to rake leaves as a kid, nor did I ever jump into a pile like Linus does here, especially not with a lollipop I'd been licking, but it does make me think a little bit of those bags with jack-o-lantern faces and such on them that you'd fill up with leaves. I absolutely loved those things when I was a kid. What I can relate to, though, are the costumes and trick-or-treating, right down to the old-fashioned ghost sheet costumes with the eye-holes cut out. Yes, one year, I decided to go with that cliche costume idea, and while I didn't have as many problems with the holes as Charlie Brown, my mom and I did end up cutting the holes near the edge of the sheet instead of the middle at one point (I don't know how that happened, as I was wearing the damn thing when she cut the holes!) In fact, it's not Charlie Brown; all of the kids wear those sheets when they go out trick-or-treating, although some of them decide to put their heads through them and wear masks, like Lucy in her witch mask and the one kid wearing the ghoul mask with the purple-red hat, or other things atop the sheets, like the one kid with the coonskin hat (and, in a way, Pig-Pen with all of his dirt). And then, of course, there's Snoopy in his World War I flying ace getup, although he uses it to act out his fantasies rather than go trick-or-treating.
Seriously, who doesn't have fond memories of going trick-or-treating when they were kids and getting a crap-load of different kinds of candy? Although, I have to ask, since when you say "tricks or treats" rather than just "trick-or-treat." They go back and forth between adding the "s" to both words and keeping it off but I've never heard it pronounced "tricks or treats" anyplace else other than this cartoon? Could someone tell me if that's how it was sometimes said back in the 60's? And once again, I have to reiterate that Charlie Brown getting nothing but a bunch of rocks is just wrong. At one point, they're looking at what they got from one house, one of the kids says he even got a quarter, but poor Charlie Brown still got a damn rock (and unfortunately, if you watch the Angry Video Game Nerd Dick Tracy episode, you see that people in real-life are that dickish, as James Rolfe himself got a rock when he went trick-or-treating one year). Halloween parties, on the other hand, are something that I have no memories of, as I've never been to any in my entire life. I've never been a "party person," even when I was a kid, but the scenes of Violet's party don't fail to put a smile on my face, although it's odd how all of the boys ditched their costumes for old-fashioned bandit masks and the girls are wearing their typical clothes, except Lucy, who's still wearing the sheet but traded in the witch mask and hat in favor of a red-colored sorcerer's hat. Of course, it's not all smiles for everyone, as the girls simultaneously embarrass and infuriate Charlie Brown when they draw a jack-o-lantern face on the back of his head, Lucy bobs for apples and finds that Snoopy was doing the same beneath the water, and Snoopy dances to the World War I tunes Schroeder plays on his piano, only to leave in tears at the sound of the sad song he starts playing.
Finally, like I mentioned before, I really like the part near the end where Lucy wakes up at 4:00 in the morning to find that Linus is still out in the pumpkin patch and, when she walks outside, finds him lying on the ground, bundled up in his blanket and shivering. She then gets her half-asleep brother to his feet and leads him to the house. She takes him into his bedroom, takes his shoes and socks off, and puts him to bed. You very rarely see her do anything that nice, even if it is in a begrudging manner, and I like how it shows that deep down, she does care about her brother. And the special ends with Charlie Brown and Linus lamenting about the crappy Halloween they both had, when the former makes the mistake of insinuating that waiting all night for the Great Pumpkin was stupid and gets a raving earful from Linus, who declares that he will see the Great Pumpkin next Halloween, as the credits roll and Charlie Brown appears to wonder why he doesn't just keep his mouth shut.
Composer Vince Guaraldi was another person who, like producer Lee Mendelson and director Bill Melendez, had been with Peanuts ever since it made the leap from comic strip to animation and would continue scoring the various specials until his death in 1976 (at just 47, no less). Because the piece that's known by everyone as the main Peanuts theme is actually called "Linus and Lucy," as you first hear it during the opening with the pumpkin here, I used to think that it originated here but, when I updated my review of A Charlie Brown Christmas last year, I was reminded that you actually hear it there. In any case, what more can you say about that theme? It's lively and energetic, with a childlike quality, and fits the entire idea of Peanuts to a T. Other notable pieces of the score include "Graveyard Theme," which you hear during the opening and is a kind of creepy, low piano piece, accompanied by the eerie sounds of the ghouls and the owl that show up (it was longer in the original broadcast version, where the special's sponsors were credited); "The Great Pumpkin Waltz," a slow and very mellow theme that you first hear when Linus is writing his letter to the Great Pumpkin and is repeated many times throughout the show, with various types of accompaniments; "Trick-or-treat," a surprisingly low, solemn-sounding piece (probably meant to accentuate Charlie Brown's disappointment of getting nothing but rocks); "Red Baron," a very lively and heroic-sounding theme when Snoopy is first seen in his World War I flying ace outfit; "Breathless," a kind of eerie and downbeat theme when he's imagining that he's sneaking around behind enemy lines, accompanied by the distant sounds of gunfire and explosions (this is one of several themes that were actually composed by John Scott Trotter, who acted as the score's arranger and conductor); and a theme for Charlie Brown that's actually upbeat, although it plays when he's excited about getting an invitation, only for Lucy to act as a killjoy, when he's being embarrassed at the Halloween party, and during the ending when Linus is ripping him a new one about the Great Pumpkin. The tunes that Schroeder plays for Snoopy on his piano are actual World War I songs: the two upbeat ones are It's a Long Way to Tipperary and Pack Up Your Troubles, while the slower and sadder ones are There's a Long, Long Trail and Roses of Picardy, the latter of which is the one that makes Snoopy completely break down and leave the house, bawling his eyes out.