Warner Bros. // 1973 // 25 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // October 16th, 2008
"We've got another holiday to worry about."
When it comes to holiday specials, the lion's share seems to go to Christmas. And why not? It's a season of warm fuzzies, family traditions, and colorful characters; it's also nearly a month long. Even Halloween -- with its ghosts, goblins, and sexy nurses -- is well-represented on screens small and large. But in between Christmas's heaven and Halloween's hell sits Thanksgiving, a family holiday languishing in a purgatory of stuffing and football.
As much as I love Thanksgiving, I can see why there aren't more TV specials devoted to it. There's really only one story to tell -- of the Pilgrims' and Native Americans' first feast -- and while you could focus more on togetherness than the day's more gluttonous aspects, let's face it: family really belongs to Christmas. So once you strip away kinship and cultural racism, what's a network producer to do? Tell the story of a turkey outwitting a bloodthirsty farmer? No thank you.
I have to give A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving the credit it's due for tackling the nigh-impossible task of making a lasting special out of a tricky holiday -- and mostly succeeding. As part of a Warner Bros. push to re-release the Peanuts' television specials on "remastered deluxe" DVD, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving joins It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Christmas at the top of the heap. Considering the middling quality of later Peanuts specials, Thanksgiving remains a solid holiday offering. Compared to Great Pumpkin and Christmas, though, it comes in a distant third -- further proof that Halloween and Christmas have it out for Thanksgiving, the Charlie-Browniest of American holidays.
The Thanksgiving story -- about Peppermint Patty inviting herself, Marcie, and Franklin over to the Brown house for dinner, and Charlie having to prepare the meal himself because he doesn't have the guts to tell Patty that he and Sally have been invited to their grandmother's house -- is decent enough. Compared to the relatively subversive specials that preceded it, though, it's pretty tame. Where The Great Pumpkin addressed issues of faith and dashed childhood dreams, and Christmas tackled rampant consumerism head-on, the worst thing Thanksgiving can come up with is a scene in which Woodstock eats turkey. Come to think of it, though, that might be the most disturbing thing Charles Schulz ever wrote.
The biggest problem with Thanksgiving is that it stars the B-team. I'm sure others will disagree, but Woodstock and Marcie just aren't as interesting as Linus and Lucy. And while Christmas featured Linus's great "what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown" speech, the best he can do this time is compare a meal of popcorn, jellybeans, and toast to the DIY spirit of the Pilgrim's feast. Linus delivering the moral of the story is just one of many elements repeated from the first two specials -- things that were better the first time around.
Perhaps the reason Thanksgiving falls short is because, unlike Christmas and The Great Pumpkin, it wasn't based on material from Charles Schulz's comic strip. If you're looking for more tidbits like that one (albeit without the editorial), check out the disc's main bonus feature: "Popcorn & Jellybeans: Making a Thanksgiving Classic," a 13-minute retrospective to match those found on the other deluxe edition DVDs. The Peanuts gang's first two trips to the small screen were fraught with difficulty. The comic strip was a hit, but it had yet to be seen whether the translation to TV would work. Even after Christmas became as a commercial and critical success, The Great Pumpkin had the added pressure of having to prove it wasn't just a fluke. By the time Thanksgiving was made in 1973, that pressure was off -- a change in tone evident in "Popcorn & Jellybeans." Most of the featurette is spent on either warm descriptions of the holiday, or introductions to the various child voice actors, now grown -- hardly gripping stuff.
Nowhere is the precipitous drop in quality after the first three Peanuts holiday specials more evident than in the bonus episodes included with the new DVDs. 1988's The Mayflower Voyagers -- a retelling of the Pilgrim's fateful journey -- makes sense as a B-side to Thanksgiving. Besides the inclusion of Peanuts characters, though, it bears little resemblance to Schulz's earlier work. The subversive spirit that was starting to slip away with Thanksgiving is completely gone here. Hey, at least it's educational. The final bonus feature is a redeemable code to download Vince Guaraldi's "Thanksgiving Theme" and (inexplicably) "Camptown Races" from iTunes.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving: Deluxe Edition is available on its own and as part of the Peanuts Deluxe Holiday Collection (along with Christmas and The Great Pumpkin). Unless you have especially fond memories of the special, or are looking for something to keep the kids busy while the turkey rests, it's tough to recommend this special by itself. It looks and sounds great, but just isn't as good as its predecessors. If you can get the three-disc collection cheap enough that Thanksgiving is basically free, that's probably your best bet. Now if you'll excuse me, there's a piece of pumpkin pie with my name on it.
No seconds for me, thanks.
Review content copyright © 2008 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Portuguese)
Running Time: 25 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "The Mayflower Voyagers"
* "Popcorn & Jellybeans: Making a Thanksgiving Classic"
* Music Downloads