Here we go. Thanksgiving special review #2.
Do these guys really need an introduction? No, but I will give a brief one anyway.
If Mel Blanc was the man of a thousand voices, Hanna-Barbera is the company of a thousand characters. And while not all of them are interesting, per say, neither are any two too alike.
The Flintstones. Tom and Jerry. The Jetsons. Yogi Bear. Dexter’s Laboratory. Scooby Doo. These cartoons and more defined several generations. Their legacies are fondly remembered today, and a few of them have even continued to evolve, producing new films and tv shows.
The company that brought them to life (those post MGM, I mean) started up in 1957, with the titular William Hanna and Joseph Barbera at the helm, and together, they would soon become famous for their iconic animation styles, sound effects, and the near-hilarious repetition of said animation and sound effects.
Some shows used it more than others (mostly the older ones), but it was there. And even when I wanted to shout “lazy and cheap!” for the whole world to hear, I found myself strangely endeared to the rhythmically bobbing heads, familiar backgrounds passing by every few seconds, repeated and sometimes flipped animation cycles, and background music and effects that will haunt your subconscious for years.
Enter The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn’t, a more fictionalized account of the First Thanksgiving and how close it was to going south, apparently. And no, I don’t mean “going south” as in stealing and bloodshed between warring peoples. More as in “our dinner party will have to be rescheduled! Oh, the horror!”
In short, it’s your mother’s worse nightmare.
Okay, so what’s the story here?
In “modern-day” America, a squirrel family is about to sit down to dinner. The dad squirrel begins telling his son (voiced by June Foray, who you may recognize as the voice of another famous cartoon squirrel) about the First Thanksgiving, in a similar vein to Legend of the Titanic:
(skip to around 2:47, unless you’re interested in the full review)
That’s right, kids. The history books got it wrong. You should always trust talking animals when it comes to learning about the past. But hey, at least this story’s “version” of history isn’t as insulting…depending on who you ask…
Long story short: the Native Americans saved the settlers’ naive butts and decided to pay them back with a big feast, sharing all of the food they managed to grow after that rocky first year. Not too far off, I guess; nevermind that nobody has a historically correct accent or any kind of language barrier.
Oh, and by the way, this special goes a little bit into Disney’s Pocahontas territory.
The squirrel kid’s ancestor, Jeremy Squirrel, became friends with two boys from both sides. On the day of the feast, Johnny Cook and Little Bear get so caught up in play-hunting and proving their manly worth to one another, that they run off into the deep woods and get lost. Thus, while they try to navigate their way back (a la silly, forced hijinks) and keep from being killed by the one douchey animal in the woods, Jeremy leads the search party to bring them home.
Spoilers (not really): they make it back fine, and the feast commences the day after, I guess. Jeremy sits as the guest of honor, gives the sappiest prayer you’ve ever heard in your life, and the special ends on more comedy lite.
Despite my sarcasm, it’s a charming little special. The quality of it feels novel somehow; it’s not really funny, and it egregiously repeats its animation within the same musical number (let alone the same scene). There are about three musical numbers that are all cute and inoffensive.
In fact, that’s the perfect word I’d use to describe it. Inoffensive. It feels like it’s been sanded; so even when drama strikes, it’s not very engaging. Like an after school special meant to make you aware or appreciative of something, and all it really does is bore or unintentionally amuse you.
The characters are all distinctly one-note, so you don’t really feel or worry for them. The most I felt was irritation at their continuous stupidity (terrorizing innocent animals, running off, being ignorant of the dangers they repeatedly almost fall prey to). None of the adults leave any impact, and the squirrel is an annoying goody-two-shoes, who would have been likable if he had more of a character.
But, to be fair, the special isn’t very long, so the character development of these totally new characters was always destined to suffer. What’s good is that the plot/conflict is fine, and it fits the story and run time very well. Snug, but not about to burst in an explosion of buttons.
The goof ups and inaccuracies are downright hilarious, as are the cut corners, but most of the morals are good and sound, if preachy. Overall, it’s average, but also, as I said, novel. Not something you see everyday – not that you would want to – but just right for the holiday season. Corny and wooden; certainly not the best of the Hanna-Barbera brood, but I’d still recommend it over Charlie Brown’s lackluster escapade any day.
Inoffensive. Well-meaning, warm and friendly, but out-of-touch. The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn’t is the kindly old grandmother of Thanksgiving specials. And in that sense, it is lovable and nostalgic, in more than just the classic Hanna-Barbera animation and gimmicks. Though be warned; it may be lost on (or easily ridiculed by) new viewers.
It fits Thanksgiving just right, although I’d be surprised to see who could screw up such an easy message.
To bring my ramblings here to a close, I pose this question to you:
Why is Thanksgiving as a holiday so easily glanced over?
Why are there fewer specials and movies to choose from? Fewer decoration choices?
My theory is this: food can only be left out on the shelves for so many months, and Thanksgiving has a simple message, with only so many ways you can retell it and make it new.
Think of how many times you’ve seen A Christmas Carol retold. It can get old and tedious, but the bones of the story is timeless and constantly relevant. It’s about loving life, but more so about giving.
That is the key.
Not to say that giving is a bad thing, just that it is easily exploited. Thanksgiving, generally speaking, tends to be focused more inwardly. It’s about contentment; trying to appreciate what we have, which many of us constantly fail to do while slow internet and spotty connections still plague our poor little first world country.
Christmas is about giving more and more, and having more and more. Thanksgiving is about having enough (plus any leftovers). Marketers don’t hate it, or even have anything in particular against it, but it doesn’t boost the economy quite like Christmas, or encourage the endless cycle of want quite like Christmas.
They can’t do much with Thanksgiving, so they turn their focus elsewhere. It truly is the middle child, because Halloween, while it doesn’t necessitate gifts, can at least sell candy, props, and costumes. Halloween mostly takes care of itself.
Ironically, despite not having to be a religious thing (you can pray to anyone you please, or just be happy with yourself), Thanksgiving gets pushed aside by Christmas, a holiday that once bore a cross rather of a Santa hat and beard. What we long ago dubbed as “Jesus’s Birthday,” now just about anyone can celebrate if they want, all because of marketing. The change has resulted in a very mixed bag, with some things lost and others gained.
Thanksgiving is a less “in your face” Christmas, and because of that, fewer people care about it.
I find it sad for a number of reasons, but at the same time, I’m kind of glad that advertisers leave the holiday mostly alone (except for this greedy bs here). Less commercialism is kind of nice once in a while, for certain, special things.
I think Thanksgiving should qualify as a special thing. A time for love and memories; the things that are truly important.
Food for thought…for food…
So enjoy your holiday this year, however you see fit. Enjoy it with good food and good people, if you can. And if you can, give to those who are in need. Thanksgiving is about having a whole other kind of wealth; one that is meant to be shared with all families (small, large, or the whole of the human race), feeding everyone’s spirits for the better. That’s how I see it.
With that said, enjoy this wholesome contrast:
Happy Turkey Day.
*All pictures, video clips, and other media belong to their respective owners. None of the images or sounds belong to me.