There’s a fundamental irony to the family of Peanuts specials: While several of the Charles Schulz–scripted and post-Schulz-era installments complain about the evils of consumerism, there have been (to date) 45 Peanuts specials produced since the first — and, spoiler alert, best — one, A Charlie Brown Christmas, premiered in 1965.
Many of the short, frequently seasonal programs follow formulas established in the early specials, several of which were directed by Bill Melendez and scored by the inimitable Vince Guaraldi. But even some of the more recent shorts, like Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown, are fun, and all of them are available online (even the ones that have only been released on VHS, like Snoopy: The Musical). Few of them possess the early specials’ zeal for childlike play, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth watching (or rewatching) this holiday season. In most cases, at least.
45. Snoopy: The Musical (1988)
This little-seen, hour-long special was a vain attempt at adapting the theatrical musical of the same name to an hour-long cartoon format. The music and lyrics for the show are abysmal, thanks in no small part to Snoopy’s inane inner monologue, while Cam Clarke’s nasal voice makes Snoopy sound like Jason Alexander and Matthew Broderick’s obnoxious love-child. The rest of Snoopy: The Musical makes the song’s cloying choruses — like “Sit down, roll over, lie down, play dead,” and “Don’t be a cloud when you can be the sky” — seem not so terrible in comparison. For diehards only, if you must.
44. You’re a Good Sport, Charlie Brown (1975)
Good Sport is arguably the episode where the Peanuts specials jumped the shark, except instead of having Fonzie surf over a carnivorous fish, they have Charlie Brown participate in a motocross race. Move along; there is actually nothing to see here.
43. It’s the Pied Piper, Charlie Brown (2000)
This straightforward adaptation of the Pied Piper fairy tale is kind of useless, like one of those dreary Simpsons episodes that inserts Homer and Co. into Bible stories but fails to actually do anything funny beyond that. There’s a reason this one went straight to direct-to-video: It’s pretty boring.
42. Snoopy’s Getting Married, Charlie Brown (1985)
Another aimless Snoopy-centric special, this time about Snoopy’s short-lived love affair with Genevieve the poodle (boy, does this dog ever have a type …). There are no life lessons, and no novel gags to sink your teeth into here, just a lot of mugging from Snoopy. I don’t care how much you love Charlie Brown’s dog: This is proof that you can have way too much of a good thing.
41. It’s the Girl in the Red Truck, Charlie Brown (1988)
This bizarre 50-minute-long special combines live-action and animated segments, and features several autobiographical elements from Schulz’s own childhood. Unfortunately, the whole special follows Spike, Snoopy’s oddball cousin, and has nothing to do with Charlie Brown. As weird as this one is, it’s not exactly a must-see.
40. Snoopy’s Reunion (1991)
Remember what I said about too much of a good thing? Well, it’s true of this Snoopy-specific episode, which follows Charlie Brown’s dog during an impromptu canine family reunion. This one is only slightly better than Snoopy’s Getting Married because it’s shorter and has more disarming anthropomorphized dog high jinks than you can shake a milk bone at.
39. I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown (2003)
This one is muddled, and not very festive since much of it concerns Rerun’s vain attempt to adopt a dog, any dog, even Spike, Snoopy’s weirdo cousin. The special ends with Rerun alienating Snoopy, then being run ragged by Charlie Brown’s dog, which leads him to conclude that maybe he doesn’t want a dog so much. Merry Christmas, or something?
38. It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown (1974)
This Easter-themed episode is easily the lamest of the Peanuts holiday-themed specials. In it, Linus rehashes the plot of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown by waiting for the Easter Beagle to distribute painted eggs. Also, Marcie repeatedly messes up painting eggs with Peppermint Patty because she is apparently too dumb to know how to boil an egg (she tries using the toaster at one point). The anti-commercialism stuff is still unconvincing, as is Linus’s brief spiel about how Easter is a “time of renewal.” But watching Sally lose her patience with Linus is priceless: “Never trust a man with a blanket! Somebody get me my lawyer!”
37. It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown (1977)
Charlie Brown finally beats the odds in this one, but can’t even enjoy his first kiss after he passes out at a big dance. Linus has to recount for him how he uncharacteristically danced like no one was watching and finally planted one on The Little Red-Haired Girl. That ending feels gratuitously mean, especially in light of how excessive the Lucy-with-the-football gag is in this special (Lucy only pulls the football away, but Peppermint Patty blames Charlie Brown for fouling up their team’s chances of winning).
36. He’s a Bully, Charlie Brown (2006)
Twilight star Taylor Lautner guest-stars as the voice of Joe Agate in this sometimes tense but mostly annoying recent episode. Agate is a vicious champion marble-player whom Charlie Brown must defeat, though it’s unclear why beating Agate is so important (because he’s a bully? Uh … okay?). Also, while Snoopy helps Charlie Brown beat Agate, he doesn’t transform into the Masked Marvel to help him do it. So much wasted potential, argh!
35. It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown (1984)
Nothing dates a cartoon faster than its cultural references. This goes double for a dance-centric episode that’s essentially an homage to Footloose and Flashdance. So while the sight of Snoopy wearing leg warmers makes this cheesy enough to watch, you will almost certainly want to enjoy this one for all the wrong reasons.
34. What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? (1983)
This special is, despite Schulz’s best intentions, a rather dull, belabored history lesson about the heroism of the American soldiers who participated in D-day. The sight of Peanuts characters inserted into news and archival war footage is surreal, but not necessarily in a productive way.
33. She’s a Good Skate, Charlie Brown (1980)
Peppermint Patty takes center stage in this special, but her drive to become recognized as a figure skater is constantly undermined by Snoopy hamminess. This is one of the first specials where Snoopy is so ubiquitous that you can’t help but wish he would either go away, or actually do something funny. He does neither in this installment, though the sight of him driving a Zamboni is kind of amusing.
32. There’s No Time for Love, Charlie Brown (1973)
This special marked the debut of Peppermint Patty and Marcie, two characters who initially seem to exist solely to make Lucy look less annoying. They both fall in love with Charlie Brown here, but he’s wholly uninterested given his continued fascination with all things Red-Haired Girl. There are some cute gags about the paper Charlie Brown has to write on a supermarket (he mistakes it for a museum). But beyond that, this one is pretty inessential, since the creators clearly weren’t sure of what to with Peppermint Patty and Marcie just yet.
31. Life Is a Circus, Charlie Brown (1980)
The setting makes this Snoopy-centric story, in which he runs away and joins the circus, fun. But eventually, hanging out with Snoopy gets tiresome, and you wish that Charlie Brown or Linus or even Peppermint Patty would intervene. Still, Snoopy’s unrequited love affair with a French poodle is cute.
30. Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown? (1983)
You gotta give Is This Goodbye points for chutzpah, since it tries to teach kids what it’s like to lose a best friend. It doesn’t quite pull off that noble goal, seeing as Linus and Lucy move but ultimately come back to Charlie Brown’s neighborhood. But this one deserves points for thwarted ambition.
29. It’s Spring Training, Charlie Brown (1992)
This special feels like an uninspired retread of classic baseball-themed episodes, like Charlie Brown’s All-Stars. But it does have a funny running gag at the expense of Leland, a kid who is so short, he’s either hit in the head or walked onto first base.
28. It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown (1976)
Arbor Day is thankfully not the focus of this special, though that’s partly because this special has no real focus. Charlie Brown’s team tries to win a baseball game after Lucy and Sally plant trees all around the baseball diamond. The scene where Peppermint Patty asks Charlie Brown to explain what love is makes Arbor Day worth a look.
27. Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales (2002)
There’s nothing very urgent about this special, which sees Charlie Brown trying to earn money for the Salvation Army. The bit where he plays “Oh, Susannah” on accordion and is promptly shut down by Lucy (“It’s not very Christmasy”) is gut-bustlingly funny. But while watching Lucy court Schroeder is always a pleasure — as is the sight of Charlie Brown getting attacked by an angry cat — this one just isn’t very Christmasy either.
26. It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown (1969)
This summer-camp-set episode is maybe the most aimless — and certainly the most dated — of the Charles Schulz–scripted episodes. The setup is basic: Lucy somehow enlists all the boys in summer camp, and then leads the girls to defeat the boys in various sporting competitions (whoa, girls are good at sports — who knew!?). The boys pin all their hopes on an arm-wrestling contest and train Snoopy to defeat Lucy, the girl’s champion. The finale is exciting, but it’s nothing to write home about.
25. You’re in the Super Bowl, Charlie Brown (1994)
This one is sadly not nearly as ridiculous as its title suggests. It’s also fairly aimless, a long shaggy-dog joke that pits Linus and Charlie Brown for the affection of a little girl named Melody-Melody. The anticlimactic finale to this story is funny, but the goofy Woodstock subplot — he and several other birds call a football game of Cats vs. Birds in the Animal Football League (AFL) — is just long.
24. He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown (1968)
This may be the weakest of the early Peanuts specials, since watching Snoopy separated from Charlie Brown before inevitably being reunited isn’t inherently riveting. Still, Snoopy’s tortured, maniacal facial expressions make the episode enjoyable, as do little flourishes like the dance of happiness he and Charlie Brown do upon reuniting.
23. What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown! (1978)
Snoopy hams it up in this cute, convoluted story that starts with Charlie Brown telling Snoopy about sled dogs, leads to a bar fight, and ends with impromptu cabaret-dancing. This one makes no damn sense, but it is amusing.
22. It’s an Adventure, Charlie Brown (1982)
Like A Charlie Brown Celebration before it, this vignette-centric special follows eight unrelated short stories. There are more misses than hits here, but watching Sally, who is frequently the show’s most charming character, tell jokes is very funny.
21. It’s Magic, Charlie Brown (1981)
Snoopy dabbles with magic in this cheerfully preposterous installment. Like What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown! before it, this one doesn’t make much sense, especially when Charlie Brown turns invisible, leaving Snoopy to figure out a way to transform him back into a regular kid. But Charlie Brown does get to finally kick the football in this one, and his plight is weird enough to be noteworthy.
20. Why, Charlie Brown, Why? (1990)
This tearjerker follows Linus after he discovers that his friend/crush Janice has been diagnosed with leukemia. This one is so maudlin that it shouldn’t work, but you try watching this and not feeling for poor Janice. Seriously, I dare you! Make a drinking game out of it if you have to — I bet you’ll lose, because you’re leaving this special without stifling a tear or two.
19. Lucy Must Be Traded, Charlie Brown (2003)
This recent baseball-themed episode is surprisingly funny, partly because of its surreal sense of humor. As usual, Charlie Brown tries to lead his loser baseball team to a winning season, but disaster ensues when he trades Lucy to Peppermint Patty’s team in exchange for Marcie. There are some great, weird sight gags in this episode, like the nightmare Charlie Brown has before a big game or the time Lucy catches a fly ball with a pizza. This one doesn’t really break the mold, but it is a comfortable variation on earlier baseball episodes.
18. Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown (2011)
The most recent Charlie Brown special — the first one to be made after the death of director and long-time producer Bill Melendez — is a good theme in search of a decent story. Linus panics when he learns that his grandma is going to take away his precious blanket during her next visit. He tries to prepare himself for this loss, but ultimately, he can’t part with his beloved. The episode’s moral — everybody has their own security blanket — is a good one, but the limp Snoopy-related gags (he wants to get that blanket!) and vestigial Charlie Brown tangents (he’s here, too!) don’t really work.
17. You’re in Love, Charlie Brown (1967)
You’re in Love is a classic Peanuts special, if only for its charmingly downbeat zingers, almost all of which are at the expense of lovesick Charlie Brown. Poor Chuck’s speech about being invisible to the Little Red-Haired Girl — “When she looks over, there’s nothing to see. How could she see someone who’s nothing?” — is heartbreaking, and Linus’s deadpan reaction — “You’re depressed, aren’t you?” — is equally classic. Not the best Charlie Brown–in-love episode, but a very funny one.
16. You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown (1972)
Linus runs for class president in this monotonous but entertaining episode about the pint-size politicking that any candidate must subject themselves to before an election. There are several choice gags in this one, including the scene where Lucy drives Schroeder crazy by comparing brother Linus to Beethoven — “That wonderful pianist, and that tower of strength” — and the one where Linus answers incoherent questions while on a radio call-in show.
15. You’re the Greatest, Charlie Brown (1979)
Charlie Brown prepares for the decathlon with Peppermint Patty in this one. His training struggles make this special one of the most satisfying underdog narratives in a series full of them. Also, be sure to keep an eye out later in the episode for some of the best gags involving the Masked Marvel, Snoopy’s alter ego, who enters the contest and winds up launching himself across the field during the pole vault.
14. Someday You’ll Find Her, Charlie Brown (1981)
Unlike most other specials that revolve around Charlie Brown’s love life, this one actually features a novel plot. With the help of Linus, Charlie Brown goes in search of a cute girl whom he meets at a football game. He is naturally disappointed with their search results, but it does lead to some funny misunderstandings, like the pretty-looking, gravel-voiced girl they mistake for the obscure object of Charlie Brown’s desire.
13. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973)
Peppermint Patty is at her most annoying in this special, where she shames Charlie Brown into inviting their friends over for Thanksgiving supper and winds up yelling at poor Chuck for serving (with Snoopy’s help) simple food like popcorn, buttered toast, and jellybeans. Still, the scene where Snoopy serves the meal is one of the most playful sequence in all of the Peanuts specials, and Vince Guaraldi’s score is equally excellent, especially his “Little Birdy” number.
12. A Charlie Brown Celebration (1982)
Like any portmanteau/clip-show episode, this hour-long special — which follows several short, unrelated sketches — has its fair share of clunkers. But there are several winners here too, like Linus and Lucy’s discussion of Edgar Allan Poe, or the concluding segment featuring a novel twist on the football gag.
11. You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (1985)
This 50-minute adaptation of the 1967 musical often feels like an overstuffed attempt at crystallizing the themes and tropes of a typical Peanuts special. But it is frequently charming, like when Charlie Brown tries to butt in on Lucy’s nature lesson with Linus but she repeatedly blows him off. The musical numbers are at least better than the ones in Snoopy: The Musical, which makes sense since the musical Snoopy is based on was originally the sequel to You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
10. It Was My Best Birthday Ever, Charlie Brown (1997)
Once you’ve seen Linus act like a naïve putz, you’ve basically seen several Peanuts specials. It Was My Best Birthday Ever stands out, though, because of its modest love story: Linus crushes on a girl named Mimi and invites her to his birthday party. Overprotective sister Lucy convinces Linus that Mimi won’t come to his birthday party, but Linus is sure she’s wrong. So, yes, Mimi is essentially the Easter Beagle/the Great Pumpkin, but in girl form. Still, the ending really is sweet.
9. Happy New Year, Charlie Brown (1986)
This one’s great because it’s a single-note joke that grows funnier and more surreal the longer it’s dragged out. Charlie Brown tries and fails to get out of reading War and Peace as New Year’s Eve approaches. Seeing him search in vain for a quick fix solution — he even tries to find a video-game adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel — makes this special particularly charming.
8. A Charlie Brown Valentine (2002)
This is the lesser of the two Valentine’s Day specials, though it does feature some of Charlie Brown’s best interactions with the Little Red-Haired Girl, like when he tries to wink suggestively at her and winds up being sent to the nurse’s office because his teacher think he’s got an eye infection. This special gets tangled up by a missed-connections subplot with Peppermint Patty, who as usual tries and fails to catch Chuck’s eye. Also, A Charlie Brown Valentine touches upon an idea that was previously expressed better in Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown, but is still potent here: the scene where the Little Red-Haired Girl gives out Valentine’s cards, and Charlie Brown hopes against hope that he’ll get one from her. It’s a swift heartbreaker of a scene, but a memorable one.
7. Play It Again, Charlie Brown (1971)
This Schroeder/Lucy-centric special is a treat, though its repetitive screwball banter makes it a one-trick pony. Still, who could resist watching Schroeder scream at Lucy when she asks him if Beethoven made money. After he screams, “Art! Art! Art! Art! Art!” at her, she coyly replies, “You fascinate me.” That and several other gags are worthy of the Peanuts strip.
6. It’s a Mystery, Charlie Brown (1974)
Woodstock fights Sally for control of his nest in this light, silly episode. This is that rare Peanuts special whose plot doesn’t feel like a rehash of earlier episodes, though it’s kind of mystifying to watch Sally pout when Woodstock tries to get his nest back (it’s his home, after all). Still, Vince Guaraldi’s funky soundtrack is oh so good, as is the trial scene where Lucy judges the fate of Woodstock’s nest (for the high price of seven cents).
5. It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown (1992)
The old-man-yells-at-clouds anti-commercialism streak is far more obnoxious in this Christmas special than it is in A Charlie Brown Christmas. But there are several great zingers and slapstick gags in this one, like when Snoopy (dressed as a Salvation Army Santa Claus) shoos away grinches Lucy and Linus with a toy bike horn. Also, Sally’s letter to Santa’s wife, Mary Christmas — “Congratulations on deciding to keep your own name” — and Linus’s confusion about Handel’s first name — he addresses him as “Joe Handel” — are both some of Peanuts’ best epistolary gags to date.
4. Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown (1975)
This is perhaps the most well-rounded Peanuts special: The only aspect of it that doesn’t deliver in a big way is the Snoopy/Woodstock subplot, and even that’s mostly okay. Linus gets hot for teacher while Sally pines for him, and Charlie Brown expectantly wishes that somebody, anybody will like him. There are so many eminently quotable lines in this episode that it’s hard to just pick a few. The candy-hearts gag — Sally turns a candy heart over and over to read the entirety of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnet 43” while Charlie Brown’s candy heart simply reads “Forget it, Kid” — has to be the specials’ best conceptual gag. And the scene where poor Charlie Brown opens his mailbox expectantly, hoping for a last-minute Valentine from the Little Red-Haired Girl, is devastating.
3. Charlie Brown’s All-Stars (1966)
This baseball episode is the best Charlie Brown-can’t-catch-a-break narrative because it confirms that sometimes, even when everything seems to be working in Charlie Brown’s favor, he’ll conspire to mess himself up. After resolving to lead his team to a winning season, Charlie Brown finally gets a hit and starts to round the bases. He’s ultimately tagged out when he tries to steal home and winds up in the dugout, but in that brief moment where he’s stealing second, then third, you can feel the character’s infectious excitement. You also get a great sense of play during this sequence, one that’s confirmed by other scenes in the episode that show supporting characters enjoying various sports, including skateboarding.
2. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)
People often forget that one of the charms of Schulz’s dialogue is that he doesn’t just make his children talk like grown-ups, but rather, as sharp and wise as many adults wish they spoke. Case in point: Charlie Brown’s retort to Lucy when she offers him a free kick of her football, the first such gag in Peanuts specials. He says: “I don’t mind your dishonesty half as much as as I mind your opinion of me. You must think I’m stupid.” The rest of the episode, which focuses on Linus’s delusional pining for Halloween God the Great Pumpkin is cute. But this is an immortal installment because it features some of the very best dialogue, like when Charlie Brown repeatedly laments, “I got a rock,” or when Chuck amicably parts from Linus by reassuring him, “We’re obviously separated by nondenominational differences.”
1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
This remains the best Peanuts holiday special because it’s the only one that simply relates the joys of a secular holiday season without shying away from Christmas’s faith-based reason. Linus’s speech is still an all-time seasonal highlight, as is Charlie Brown’s many thwarted attempts at finding a Christmas tree. His struggle to find meaning during the holiday season is very relatable, and probably one of the most moving programs that mainstream television has produced.