Last Friday evening, sitting on the couch playing with my newly downloaded A Charlie Brown Christmas app for the iPad, I was struck by the difference between what kids watch these days and what we watched when we were younger. At the other end of said couch, my wife had our three-year-old on her lap, and they were watching a trailer for Happy Feet Two, in which a bunch of squeaky-voiced penguin chicks do a dance routine to a parody medley of LL Cool J’s Mama Said Knock You Out and Justin Timberlake’s Sexy Back (redone as Fluffy Back. You know: for kids!) I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that per se, but it contrasted starkly with this app and kicked me immediately into “it wasn’t like that when I was a kid” mode. Between this and Pixar — and don’t get me wrong, I love Pixar — the message is go big and go loud, or go home.
A Charlie Brown Christmas, on the other hand, trades almost entirely on pure nostalgia. The music and voices from the original cartoon are all there, as is the simplistic animation — in fact, for the most part it’s actually even more basic than you’re probably used to, as the app is designed to emulate a pop-up book, right down to the paper textures used throughout the artwork. There are lots and lots of little treats to find, from mini-games to unexpected things happening when you click on the screen. You even get the dance started by playing the opening bars of Linus And Lucy.
Building on the nostalgia factor is Vince Guaraldi’s music which, digitally added or not, has the crackle of an old recording, as do the voices of the kids — they’re all there from the 1965 TV special. The story is even told by the now-quite-grown-up Peter Robbins, the original voice of Charlie Brown. Using the original recordings means you also get the slightly stunted, now signature delivery style of the kids’ lines. It’s emotional manipulation at its finest, but believe me when I say I’m a willing participant.
It’s also worth pointing out that there are religious aspects to this app, from the inclusion of Linus’ recital of the relevant verses from the Gospel of St. Luke, to the fact that a major plot point of the story is the staging of a Nativity play. Personally, I’ve no issue with it, and I don’t find it particularly in-your-face, but your mileage may vary.
The only real problem I can see — and this may not be a problem, really — is that this may not be an app for your kids so much as it is for you. It’s lots and lots of fun, and it’s beautifully presented, but I know my kid found it very slowly paced, even for a bedtime story — it’s actually even more slowly paced than I remember, but that doesn’t bother me. Closer to Christmas — it’s still only November, after all — I’ll try introducing him to the 1965 animated film (which is on DVD and Blu-ray) and then try this again.
For the moment, though, I’ll be enjoying this one with some hot chocolate on my own.
Wired: A beautifully designed app, and one that will tug at the heartstrings of anyone with fond memories of the animated specials.
Tired: Slowly-paced enough that it’s probably not great for young kids. Relatively expensive for what it is.
A Charlie Brown Christmas is available now from iTunes, priced at $6.99 and is compatible with your iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, so long as it’s running iOS 3.2.2 or later.