When is the Peanuts Thanksgiving special on this year? This week will mark the 40th Anniversary of the television premiere of Charles Schultz’s Emmy Award winning A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973). At the time, this was the 10th Charlie Brown special to air on prime time (there had been two theatrical films released as well). ABC, which has owned the rights to all the Peanuts specials since 2000, will air it this year on Thanksgiving night. When A Charlie Brown Christmas celebrated its 40th Anniversary eight years ago, it scored the highest ratings of the night.
The Thanksgiving special contained two landmarks in the Peanuts oeuvre. It opens with the first televised animated version of the Lucy and Charlie Brown football holder/kicker running gag, which had first premiered in Schultz’s strip back in November 1952 (one year earlier there had been one with Violet and Charlie) and had been a fall perennial ever since. Schultz acknowledges many viewers’ awareness of the outcome of the gag, as Charlie Brown expresses reticence. However, Lucy convinces him to try with a statement about the tradition of the Thanksgiving football game and that the game couldn’t start without the kickoff. Oddly, this is Lucy’s only appearance in the special.
The special also marks the first animated TV appearance of the character of Franklin, whom Schultz had introduced to the strip in 1968 in response to letters from African-Americans. Franklin comes along as a guest with Peppermint Patti and Marcie when they invite themselves over to Charlie Brown’s for Thanksgiving dinner, Charlie Brown being too polite to refuse them, despite not knowing how to cook and having to also attend his grandmother’s Thanksgiving dinner in another part of town.
The most entertaining sequence in a highly entertaining special is Charlie Brown and Linus’ preparation for this impromptu dinner, with help from Snoopy and his sidekick Woodstock. Woodstock, the bird named after the iconic festival, had made his animated television debut a year before in You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown, and had been an instant hit (both he and Snoopy were voiced by the late Bill Melendez). That special also saw the debut of a new, funky Vince Guaraldi song dedicated to Snoopy titled ‘Joe Cool’, featuring Guaraldi himself on vocals. In Thanksgiving, Woodstock gets an even funkier song, ‘Little Birdie’, with vocals from jazz-drummer Grady Tate (who would soon be heard singing on many Saturday morning Schoolhouse Rock classics such as ‘I Got Six’). The song builds over the whole dinner table set-up sequence, including a battle with a folding chair that has to be seen to be truly enjoyed.
So if you’re at a family gathering, or out on your own, try to find time to catch this portion of what the meaning and humor in this unique holiday used to be, and a bit of what it will hopefully always retain.
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