I mentioned this before, but the ending to A Charlie Brown Christmas is entirely fucked up. It always sat a little uncomfortably with me, but I couldn't put my finger on why (or I was too busy not writing internet articles overanalyzing children's cartoons, hard to remember). Watching it again, it finally hit me: this is the most depressing "dark timeline"-esque ending POSSIBLE.
Charlie Brown starts out the special bemoaning the overcommercialization of Christmas and explaining how he feels like an outsider - unable to share in the joys of presents and shiny decorations that everyone else seems to be so enraptured in. Lucy tries to mend his problems by making him the director of the Christmas play, but that doesn't help really - he doesn't know how to direct, or get anyone to listen to him, or even what the play's supposed to be ABOUT. So he goes and tries to find a Christmas tree - and when he finds the pathetic little twig-tree, his heart is warmed for the first time in the entire special.
This is what Christmas means to Charlie Brown, and this is what Christmas is SUPPOSED to mean to everyone (according to Linus' speech anyhow). The tiny little twig-tree is the most important symbol in the entire show, because it IS what Christmas is all about. It's the humble little thing that no one would normally give a second glance to - among the sea of garish, multi-colored aluminum trees, it's the only one with any authenticity. The rest of the trees are man-made, designed to be huge and eye-catching and - here we go - commercial. Then there's this tiny sapling, pathetic and forgettable, unremarkable and small, but real.
In other words, of all the trees, it's the Charlie Browniest.
Naturally, Charlie Brown chooses that tree, despite the protestations of Linus (who - after his Jesus speech - should see the parallels here). And - also naturally - everyone rails on Charlie Brown for his terrible, uncommercial decision. So Charlie Brown leaves with his tiny tree, at first hopeful that he can make the others see what he sees in this little thing. But it's too fragile - when he tries to add an ornament, it stretches the tree to its breaking point, and he thinks he's killed it. Much like Charlie Brown, the little guy can't handle commercialization - and trying to force it just results in tragedy.
Just like the ornament breaks the tree, it breaks Charlie Brown too - he gives up and goes inside, convinced he's utterly failed at Christmas. Then the rest of the kids return and find Charlie Brown's little broken tree. Linus looks closely and says "It's really not such a bad little tree..." and - for a fleeting second - there's hope that the rest of the kids will see what Charlie Brown saw. They'll see Christmas isn't about ornaments and gifts and bright lights, but about helping prop up the smallest and most helpless of us all, and making them feel like they're a part of something bigger. It's about appreciating things for what they are, and accepting everyone and everything as wonderful.
Instead, they wave their arms and transform Charlie Brown's wonderful little tree into the commercialized ideal of modern Christmas trees (although how they added the pine needles to it remains a mystery). It's a complete slap in the face to the biggest theme of Peanuts - it'd be like Charlie Brown being sad because he's Charlie Brown and the kids transform him into Fonzie or something. It's a complete bastardization of the wonderful simplicity of Charlie Brown's tree. They ruin it, and turn it into what THEY wanted the whole time, instead of what Charlie Brown needed.
But here's the even sadder part - Charlie Brown comes out and sees what they've done to his little tree...and he loves it. He's totally onboard - because he's given up. He was broken by the ridicule he suffered and his sad attempt at ornament-ing up his tree, so when he sees the twig-tree transformed into a replica of every other commercialized tree out there, he's ecstatic. Charlie Brown has given up his attempt to buck against the trends of commercialization. He's accepted that commercialization is the way to go. Who cares about individualism and things being special the way they are? He doesn't need any of that anymore, because he's realized it's just easier to do what everyone else expects of you.
Of all the Charlie Brown specials, this ending is the least Charlie Brown-y of all.