The much-loved 1966 holiday special, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, has been brought to iOS by Loud Crow Interactive, and I hate to be a Grinch about it, but the heart and beauty of a great story has been squeezed out of it.
The Beautiful Title Screen
There is so much potential
It starts out so beautifully with the sort of title that Loud Crow does so well. The familiar music by Vince Guaraldi plays from an old record player, scratches and all, as a warm and appropriate Halloween tableau is displayed. I was ready to really like this app with fond memories of how perfectly Loud Crow had produced it’s earlier works, such as PopUp! The Tales of Peter Rabbit and PopUp! The Tales of Benjamin Bunny. Both were gorgeous and broke new ground in the field of online children’s literature. They made you feel that you were reading a well made Pop-Up book lovingly printed on thick stock, and, in doing so, in using wonderful artwork and surprises, honored the texts.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown has elements that survive the transition, such as beautiful artwork, the appearance that it was printed on quality stock, and the original soundtrack from the 1966 CBS special; all of these are wonderfully preserved, but that’s where it ends.
I’d say that this app is 10% perfection and 90% gimmickry and crass commercialism. It tosses in so many pointless elements that I was expecting to see the kitchen sink waft by.
Creating an Avatar
Too Much Gimmickry
As soon as you leave the perfect title page, the mood is killed by having to sign up for an account and username and build an avatar. You can use your Facebook login. The keyboard that is displayed doesn’t default to upper case when the name of your avatar is input which was thoughtless, but why should it when you get to the point where you read the name, it’s in all caps anyway.
The next fifteen minutes to half an hour is spent building an avatar that looks like Charlie Brown no matter what you do to it. You can choose nine skin colors, two head shapes, 27 expressions, and lots of hair colors or have it done at random.
A Ton of Options At A Price
Next you have to create a costume. There are tons of accessories, glasses, mustaches, clothes, shoes, etc. Some are free, but some cost coins or candy. You are given some coins and candy, but if you choose things that cost more than you have you are sold coins and candy.
A Profit Center
The promo version I used didn’t show the prices, but I think it’s disgraceful to charge US$4.99 and then before you even get to the story, risk getting hit up for some more money for little if any value. This is a profit center for Loud Crow that made me wince. Next you get to carve a pumpkin using a cutter, a lamp that can be various colors to put inside the pumpkin to give the cutout a glow, and various and sundry other options. That is free, but I wanted to get to the story.
You Really Need An iPad
After putting up with all of this, the next thing you come to is a two-page comic book spread which would be illegible on anything smaller than an iPad. Since this is a universal app compatible with not only iPads but iPhones from 3GS to 5 and iPod touch generations 3 to 5, making something that would appear so small on a 3.5-inch screen was not well thought out. This business of not thinking things through, at least to me, is consistent throughout the app as we’ll see.
It was a nice touch to have Peter Robbins, the original voice of Charlie Brown do the non-soundtrack narration, but the way they went about it was poor. Instead of having a ‘read-to-me’ option as most children’s books do, this one leaves small kids out of the loop since there’s a lot to do, much of it pointless. After listening to a line from the 1966 soundtrack, the line is displayed in one of 20 tabbed action sequences. Touch a word and the word is pronounced by Peter Robbins, and not the character who said it. This tossed me out of the story immediately for two reasons. One was that the volume of the adult reader was much louder than the soundtrack volume and the other was that you can only hear one word read, not a phrase or sentence. However, the word, when spoken, is highlighted, which was a nice feature.
Not For The Smallest of Children
There are 20 tabbed action sequences. You can see the tabs, but they are nothing but eye-candy because after viewing one screen and watching the action, you must swipe right to left to get to the next tab. When you run out of tabs, one of two things happen with no consistency. Either tapping on a character has the soundtrack repeat what the character said last, or new dialog is spoken. This can be confusing, but to make it worse, sometimes an exchange of four or so new lines can only be heard by tapping on one character than the other, then the first again, etc. There’s no indication of when this needs to be done.
Some Nice Touches
Loud Crow does a great job of using the physics engine they perfected to have leaves blow or candy fly around the screen depending on how you tilt the device, and they brought back a nice touch from Peter Rabbit where when you constantly tap on pile of leaves, a realistic leaf pops out and falls to the bottom of the screen to be manipulated.
Loud Crow also uses the pop-up style to nice effect. When a new tabbed sequence starts it looks like the characters fold up from the bottom of the screen and are displayed on layered thick nubbly paper stock. The backgrounds are rendered in lovely watercolors and the level of art is admirable.
Avatar is In the Center
Logic Doesn’t Prevail
A goodly number of things are just not logical and pulled me out of the story since they had nothing to do with the story, or contradicted the story. At one point Linus is trying to mail a letter to the Great Pumpkin, and Lucy says she won’t help him because the mailbox is much higher than Linus. So Linus whips his blanket and in one graceful movement opens the door of the mailbox and his letter gracefully flies into the opening. It’s a great bit. But at the end, it resets and Linus is holding the letter again. You can re-do the sequence as many times as you like, but this doesn’t fit when they are telling a linear story.
In another scene, the kids ask for candy and at every tap a bunch of candy is tossed at them. This can go on until there are thousands of pieces of candy, but then Lucy asks for another piece for Linus who is waiting for the Great Pumpkin. Huh? Right after that the kids compare candy and each has only one piece with Charlie Brown saying he got a rock. It seems the designers couldn’t make up their minds on what’s more important - the story or the interaction. Your avatar and pumpkin only appear a handful of times.
One pet peeve I have with many interactive children’s books is that every object seems to be spring loaded and touching it makes it bounce a little. This one is no different. I’d have no problem if there were a reason, but only one was given that makes sense. When you tap on Pig Pen, a cloud of dust appears. I have no problem with that.
Here’s a strange one; Lucy bobs for apples and Snoopy appears in the apple barrel which disgusts Lucy, but then she has to keep bobbing with Snoopy appearing every two bobs. Do this often enough and you get an apple bobbing achievement. The barrel never empties. So this contradicts what the story tells to sell a gimmick.
I do have a problem with random achievements. I was surprised when moving some leaves that a banner appeared saying: “Achievement: Raking Leaves”. It turns out that there are a number of achievements for no apparent reason that, if all are completed, you get more candy points at the end to buy costume pieces. Achievements include smashing rotten pumpkins —Spoiler Alert— tap on any pumpkin that doesn’t look like the watercolor background.
Others are really random like finding candy or something that could have been really good given a touch more thought. At one point Schroeder is at his piano and Snoopy as the WWI Flying Ace dances to the music. A keyboard appears with dots on the keys to touch to play the three World War I songs. There are three songs. Completing all three is an achievement. This could have been worked into the narrative, but, as it is, it just seems odd and sticks out.
Would I Recommend it?
No, I wouldn’t. To me, Loud Crow took a wonderful story of Linus’ hope against Lucy’s cynicism, with the added humor of Charlie Brown never getting a break, and stomps on its heart by adding pointless and confusing gimmicks and turning potential nostalgia and warmth into a profit center.
I love this story and watched it when it first came out and later with both my children Now it feels like a friend has been bludgeoned.