You have to hand it to Linus (Stephen Shea) – in the face of all evidence to the contrary, he continues to believe, and believe with a capital “B”, even when sceptics such as Sally mock him gently, and let’s be fair, not-so-gently.
For him Halloween, and the arrival of the Great Pumpkin, and in the 1974 TV special, It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown, Easter is a matter of faith, a continuing theme for the character who reflected the tenacity of belief of his creator, the still much-missed, Charles M. Schulz.
In this special, the 12th of the Peanuts primetime animated TV specials, first broadcast on 9 April 1974 on CBS, Linus spends his time calmly convincing Sally (Lynn Mortensen), who’s more than a little sceptical after the Great Pumpkin’s no-show in 1966’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, that his faith is more than justified this time around.
Sally, eager to get to the mall to get some new shoes for Easter – in hilariously, and typically, melodramatically fashion we see her bemoaning to her brother Charlie Brown that she has nothing to wear and is severely bummed out about what the major Christian holiday holds for her – wants very much to believe, but can’t quite make the leap to an outright embrace of Linus’s dubious egg-dispensing canine gospel.
Lucy (Melanie Kohn), in full no-nonsense flight, is, of course, having none of her brother’s carry-on, and sets off for the mall, after dropping in on Sally and Charlie, to get everything she needs for the perfect Easter celebration.
This clash of belief and scepticism is a hallmark of many of the Peanuts specials, which due to Schulz’s strong Christian faith, always sought to invest more meaning into what are major American cultural events, not all of which retain their previously-assigned reason for being.
The joy of the Peanuts specials, and indeed the comic strip itself, is that they were never preachy about their message; whatever was said, was said gently, whimsically and with nuance, which is very much the case with It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown.
Interestingly, unlike A Charlie Brown Christmas where the gospel is given a definitive moment in the festive sun, no such insertion of the true meaning of Easter rears its head; instead, we are given an elegant, understated and, at times, humourous take on faith that is rewarded – the Easter Beagle does appear! Handing out Lucy’s carefully-prepared eggs to her great annoyance – on Easter morning.
It’s a good thing too because had the Easter Beagle, Snoopy, of course in full mischievous devil-may-care mode, not shown up, Easter would have been almost entirely a disappointment for pretty much everyone.
Take Peppermint Patty (Linda Ercoli), who spends the entire special trying to teach Marcie (Jimmy Ahrens) how make coloured boiled eggs, to variously imperfect results.
Problem is that Marcie, despite her considerable intelligence, has never made a coloured Easter egg, and with Peppermint Patty more concerned with getting the colours set up than instructing her properly – it’s really a failure to educate rather than to learn – Marcie keeps guessing what the eggs should look like, and failing.
She first fries them, then cooks them in a waffle iron, makes soup out of them and tries to balance them on the toaster, grand experiments all that succeed only in bankrupting Peppermint Patty who has bought three-dozen eggs but has nothing to show for them.
Woodstock (Bill Melendez) too is having a less than stellar Easter.
Rained out by a freezing Spring shower which leaves his home more swimming pool than nest, he complains bitterly to Snoopy (Bill Melendez) who, on a shopping trip to the mall where, 246 days out from the event, Christmas is already being marketed to everyone’s chagrin (so not much has changed then), buys his winged-friend a snazzy birdhouse which Woodstock first rejects before fitting it out with a “television, contemporary artwork, a sunken bed, modern furniture, and a quadrophonic stereo system” (Wikipedia).
It’s palatial and very much of the moment, but jealous that he isn’t seeing his friend anymore, and anxious to get a better look, Snoops accidentally wrecks it, forcing him to go back and get another birdhouse. (The relationship between Snoopy and Woodstock, which I’d always thought was warmly-supportive, ends up looking demandingly-abusive in this special.)
Schroeder (Greg Felton), who only features briefly, and only in his customary role as a sounding board for Lucy who gives herself the answers she wants to hear, is dismayed that Lucy only sees Easter as a chance to get chocolates and other yummy treats and not as something more profound and selfless.
Undeterred by Schroeder’s lack of support for “gift-getting season”, Lucy sets out to create her own self-contained universe of Easter gifts, only to have it all un-done, in gloriously-cheeky fashion, by Snoopy who, whatever his quirks, is all about giving and making sure everyone has a wonderful time … well, except for Charlie Brown who, you guessed it, doesn’t get an egg because they’ve all run out.
Featuring classical music, as is the schtick for these specials (in a nod to Schroeder though, for once, he is not shown playing it) including Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony and Christian Petzold’s Minuet in G major, It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown is a light-hearted but meaningful examination of the cultural trappings of Easter which, although it doesn’t wear the holiday’s origins on its narrative sleeve, is nevertheless a rich exploration of faith and why believing matters, whatever the outcome.
(Although in this case, it does end well and there’s eggs for all; well, everyone but poor old Charlie Brown that is.)