So there won’t be a big holiday review-fest going on this month, in part because the mainstream media glances over Thanksgiving like the middle child of the holiday trifecta that it is. I have seen precisely two Thanksgiving specials, which I’ll give some time to, but otherwise, we’re back to business as usual.
But on to A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. the first of the two.
Aired first on November 20th, 1973, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is a pretender, similar in form to It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown. I’ll get to that one in the future, and it’ll be decidedly ranty, but suffice it to say that the Thanksgiving special is stale. Not bad, but there is nothing to it that really warrants its existence.
I can already here them now.
Granted, I didn’t see this special until a few years ago, but it baffles me that many people consider it “one of the greats.” The music and the animation are nice, I’ll say that much, but the acting (or direction of the actors) is terrible, the basic editing is sloppy, the audio mixing is very staticy and inconsistent, and, as I’ve said, the plot is paper thin.
It such a small, slice-of-life story that ended up being stretched and shoved full of filler to make it 25 minutes long.
The story begins with another football gag, with Lucy being even less convincing than usual.
Yes, Charlie. We do think you’re the most stupid person alive.
Even if the first kick of the football is a Thanksgiving tradition, wouldn’t that be part of a professional game? Not just two kids playing in the yard? And what does such a “big honor” feel like, when nobody but them is around to see it?
I mean, come on! Lucy didn’t even give him a signed document!
And yeah, the editing. Why are the characters’ movements so drawn out and illustrated to us? What is with the pauses and the uneven flow of the dialogue? It’s hard to explain in detail, but it just feels wrong to me; like I could do a better job than these hacks. The original child actors were better edited and directed than this, and the scenes in, for example, Charlie Brown All-Stars, were perfectly cut by comparison.
Notice how much action and motion there is, and how fluid and quick it is. It’s called timing, and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving lacks it big time.
And no, I’m not hating on this special just because it’s newer than my two favorites. Do you know what other Charlie Brown movies and specials I like? Snoopy Come Home and Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown.
Then Charlie and his little sister, Sally, talk about Thanksgiving and how she doesn’t feel thankful because it just means more work to do at school.
The kid inside me agrees whole-heartedly; after all, the fastest way to kill a child’s appreciation for a holiday (or awareness month) is to bog them down in research assignments and presentations.
Here’s another instance of the bad editing. Watch for yourself, and notice, as the story goes on, how long after a character finishes speaking that there is a pause before the conversation continues and the animation cuts to a new angle or shot. Sally stumbles on her words (and for some reason, the director, the sound guys, and the animators rolled with it) and she stares at her brother and pauses just a little too long afterward. It doesn’t feel natural, at least to me.
Personally, I would have sanded it down just a little bit. When people speak (at least in English), there is a certain rhythm and flow to the conversation, and the speakers take pauses accordingly. Long pauses make for awkward silence, and short pauses are for toy commercials:
The main plot then commences.
Peppermint Patty is a presumptuous, oblivious idiot who invites herself and few other kids over the Charlie’s house for Thanksgiving, despite the fact that Charlie and Sally are supposed to go to their grandmother’s house with their family. Patty makes an ass of herself whenever she appears in the special, but especially so during the dinner that Charlie hurriedly but earnestly attempts to provide for her. And of course, Charlie Brown, ever the passive, put-upon poster child for bullying victims, never confronts her and barely even tries to dissuade her, despite the extreme inconvenience to himself and his family.
Funny how Peanuts cartoons can be so charming and depressing simultaneously.
Yes, sometimes kids do stupid, thoughtless things and prioritize the attention from their peers over others, but Patty is extremely unlikeable in this special. I personally can’t believe anyone being this unknowingly rude and presumptuous, and even given that, Patty seems damn near blasé during her Heel Realization. It’s less like, “Oh no. I hurt Chuck’s feelings,” and more like, “Aw, shucks. I spilled my milk.”
It’s a tough sell when characters don’t realize their mistakes on their own. It’s hard to judge if they (or she, in this case) actually learned anything. Whether she did or she didn’t, the scene that lead up to it was not at all pleasant to watch. And despite the build up to it, Patty becoming not just disappointed, but outraged, with Charlie felt like it came out of nowhere.
And then she doesn’t even really apologize to him in person.
Snoopy and Woodstock help with the cooking and set up and, no joke, there is a both boring and oddly surreal scene of Snoopy fighting with a folding chair that goes on for nearly a full minute.
Yeah, remember those pacing problems I mentioned? Was the cartoon just a minute too short, so Schulz decided to fill it up with pointlessness?
The making toast scene is pretty cute, but it also feels like padding, especially with the repeated animation. If this story was really demanding to be told, why couldn’t it have been a short? Or a 6 to 11 minute cartoon?
Linus, who for some reason isn’t with his own family, says grace. As with A Charlie Brown Christmas, it’s the “what (insert holiday here) is all about” speech. But it doesn’t really give grounding or meaning to the characters visibly; least of all Patty, who blows up at Charlie not long after. It feels like it was put there because it worked in the Christmas special.
Issues are resolved quickly and anticlimactically, and we find out that Snoopy was holding out on the kids. He had a turkey in his dog house the entire time.
That son of a-
As I said, the concept might have worked better with a shorter cartoon. It tried to teach an admirable, if perhaps a bit obvious lesson (Thanksgiving is about being thankful for what you have), but not in a natural way. It felt very forced; a rickety cart on which to carry the story from point a to point b, when it wasn’t being carried by preparation scenes and montages.
You could have repackaged this as a “Make Me a Sammich, Charlie Brown” and it wouldn’t have been that much different.
If you think I’m nitpicking, you’re probably right. But think about this:
A Charlie Brown Christmas didn’t have the strongest plot, but it managed to be grounding (ironically, a bit depressing) and endearing, with a message about looking past what commercialism has turned Christmas into. And that’s a real beef some people have with Christmas; that it appears so hollow and shallow, and yet everyone buys into it. Excuse the pun.
If you’re not religious, it might not do much for you, but Linus’s speech towards the end is a scene you just can’t forget.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was about trick or treating, but it was also about faith and the fleetingness of childhood. It had plenty of filler, but it also managed to capture lightning in a bottle, becoming iconic, beloved, and one of the most memorable of Schulz’s long legacy.
I argue that you can watch these specials without nostalgia goggles, and still find plenty to love about them.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving gave us making food scenes and Snoopy wrestling with a chair.
And, fine. To be fair, Vince Guaraldi did get to sing as well as compose, providing the vocals for “Little Birdie.” That’s a rare and memorable moment, but the song didn’t do that much for me personally.
If you like the special, that’s fine. For me, sadly, it wasn’t good enough to remember.