The Peanuts specials were always something I looked forward to on the various holidays. As a child, they were definitely my favorite television programs. As an adult, they bring a sense of nostalgia to an innocent time of my life, as well as providing a great deal more depth than I caught onto at the time.
The DVD of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is actually two specials in one. Along with the classic Thanksgiving special is a lesser-known special all about the Mayflower voyage to the new world and the events which led to that first Thanksgiving.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving opens with a classic fall scene of Lucy trying to entice Charlie Brown to kick the football. When Charlie Brown balks, believing she will just pull it away at the last moment as usual, she uses the holiday as the angle to lure him in once again.
Unfortunately, that’s about it for what we see of Lucy during this special. The classic supporting characters in Charlie Brown’s life are relegated to the sidelines while Peppermint Patty, Marcie, and Franklin take center-stage. I would have liked for there to have been appearances by Schroeder, Pig-Pen, and more of Sally and Lucy than their brief appearances. Even Linus’ role is minor.
When Peppermint Patty invites herself, Franklin, and Marcie over to Charlie Brown’s house for Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown must find a way to accommodate them as well as the plans his parents have made to take him and his sister Sally to his grandmother’s house. Linus comes up with the idea to have a dinner at Charlie Brown’s home with friends and then go to his grandmother’s house with his family. The menu will be what the boys are capable of making – buttered toast, popcorn, pretzel sticks, and jelly beans. This doesn’t go over well with Peppermint Patty.
However, the day is saved when Charlie Brown’s grandmother invites the gang over to her house for dinner. The show closes with Snoopy and Woodstock having a celebration of their own, complete with turkey.
The best parts of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving are actually when Snoopy and Woodstock are doing their thing. There’s another cute sequence with Snoopy and Woodstock to the jazz tune “Little Birdy” as they try to set up the backyard for the dinner. Unfortunately, the main storyline feels like it’s just trying too hard to capture the same magic present in other Peanuts specials. It wants to be as deep as A Charlie Brown Christmas but it doesn’t quite get there. It wants the whimsy and innocence of It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, but it misses the mark. Whether it’s due to the tight focus on just a few members of the gang, rather than all of the kids together or just that the storylines are too reminiscent of what we’ve seen before, I can’t say for certain.
In addition, it does seem kind of strange that Linus is celebrating with Charlie Brown and his friends and family, rather than Lucy and the rest of his own family. I think there were too many conflicts like this in the story as well. It was believable to see them all out trick or treating on Halloween. It was believable for the kids to be all together for the Christmas pageant. It would have felt odd for them all to wake up on Christmas morning and head over to Charlie Brown’s to open Christmas presents.
Still, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving has a certain timelessness to it that makes it worth watching even now. It has more depth to it than many of the current crop of animated specials which seem more intent on creating as much mayhem and chaos around the traditional dinner than to actually achieve a poignant and heartwarming moment.
The second feature on DVD is The Mayflower Voyagers. This has the Peanuts gang as a part of the party that sailed on the Mayflower to the new continent to establish a colony. It tells the story in a fun and humorous way, while getting across the history. The adults do talk in this one. It’s really more of a history lesson than a humorous tale of the misadventures of the Peanuts gang, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. This successfully combines the personalities of Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, and others with the story of the pilgrims settling in this country and their encounter with the first Native Americans.
Both of the animated specials are in the same traditional style of animation from before CGI. The backgrounds are generally static while the characters move in front of it. Quite oftent he same background repeats over and over again as a character or characters moves through a scene. The result is a flat look, but it also helps heep a sentimental feeling to the stories.
I can’t say this DVD is one of the best of the Peanuts collection, but it’s still a lot better than many of the other animated offerings out there. I recommend it, but just don’t expect something the caliber of other holiday offerings.