Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on Awards Daily TV last November.
I have watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving every year for some 30-odd years now. That number’s getting a lot closer to 40 than I’m willing to admit, but, suffice to say, it’s become the definitive Thanksgiving tradition within the Moye household. My wife and I share it multiple times during the Thanksgiving season with our children: Cal, 10, and Ava, 6.
This year, though, it struck me that they routinely watch the special – with its admittedly dated (but completely charming) animation and old school jazz soundtrack – without complaint. In fact, they love it and beg to watch it almost every night around Thanksgiving. We don’t cave to that, fortunately.
Still, I wondered what they’re really getting out of the experience. How does the classic resonate with modern children raised on Phineas and Ferb or Adventure Time?
I decided to sit Cal and Ava down after a recent early viewing and do my best to pose these questions to them. The results were mixed, but I think we extrapolate enough out of the subsequent barrage of stream of consciousness rambling and sibling rivalry to get our answer.
To get them in the right mood, I prepared a traditional Charlie Brown Thanksgiving feast straight out of the TV show: popcorn, pretzel sticks, buttered toast, and jellybeans. It wasn’t until the midst of our family viewing that we realized I’d left out some sort of ice cream sundae the Peanuts gang managed to whip up. Still, they were happy with what we’d created.
Much like the Thanksgiving special, we did have some slightly uninvited guests crash the party. Once the kids’ friends left, we sat down and chatted briefly about the complete A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special, which now includes The Mayflower Voyagers.
Here is the transcript of our conversation (with my commentary).
Your mom and I grew up watching Charlie Brown Thanksgiving but it came out around the same time we were born. Why do you guys like it?
Cal: Oh, it’s because it tells us an important lesson and gives us the food we need to make our Charlie Brown Thanksgiving picnic out in the garage. Wait no, not in the garage! Inside! But really all it’s about is friendship and caring.
What kind of ‘important lesson’ do you think you learned?
Cal: Umm. Umm.
Ava: He doesn’t know.
Cal: Sharing is caring? (Erupting into laughter)
Ava: I liked Charlie Brown’s thanksgiving because everyone is thankful for all the people that died, and it teaches us a lesson… A different one (Pointing to her brother, insinuating that her lesson would be completely different from her brother’s lesson).
What’s the different lesson?
Ava: Umm, that you always have to care about the people that died.
Cal: That’s EXACTLY what I said!
So who died, Ava?
Ava: The pilgrims.
Ah. OK. We’re going to talk about the pilgrims a little bit later. Let’s talk about Charlie Brown. What’s your favorite part about the actual Charlie Brown Thanksgiving episode?
Cal: OHHHH! Mine is when Lucy calls him a blockhead!
Ava: I’m Lucy! Lucy the Great!
Cal: Lucy is mean as heck! Oh, can I say that? (Confusing “heck” with “hell.”)
Ava: My favorite part is when Peppermint Patty called Charlie Brown and just invited herself and she just invited Marcie and Franklin.
Cal: I think that’s the main idea of the whole story.
Why do you think that’s not polite?
Cal: Because Marcie picks her boogers.
(At this point, we had to stop because Cal laughed himself into an asthma attack. We resumed after a few minutes.)
So, Cal, you said Marcie was a booger picker. I don’t remember that from the show.
Cal: Oh yeah, she totally did like this (Illustrates a sly, profile booger-picking technique)
Ava: (Ignoring her brother) It’s not polite because YOU CAN’T JUST INVITE YOURSELF!!!
(Ava quickly became agitated at the thought of the Peanuts gang inviting themselves over for the impromptu Thanksgiving meal, completely missing the irony of her own friends doing the exact same thing to me.)
That’s right, you can’t invite yourself. Although, technically, that’s kind of what the pilgrims did. They invited themselves to the Native American’s land, don’t you think?
Cal: (Indecipherable, nonsensical noise)
Ava: Yeah, but you can’t just invite yourself to Thanksgiving without people saying you can, right???
Ok. Let’s move on. What year do you think A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving was made?
(Ava’s hand shoots up in a Tracy Flickian manner, but Cal interrupts.)
Cal: 1987! Wait no. 1978!
Ava: Mine is 1972!
That’s actually pretty close, Ava. The special originally aired back in 1973.
Cal: Well, I was pretty close.
No, you weren’t. Not at all. She was the closest.
Cal: But I said 1987!
But 1987 isn’t close to 1973. She wins. So, why do you watch it given that it’s older than Dad?
Cal: Because it’s funny how Lucy says, “You blockhead!”
That’s the only thing that you’ve learned from it?
Cal: No. Don’t be naughty to other people. Think of how you want to be treated by others.
Ava: You can be naughty to your brother, right Cal?
Cal: I don’t have a brother.
Ava: Well, I have a brother. That’s you. And I will be naughty to you.
So, do you guys think it’s funny… still funny when compared to more modern cartoons?
Cal: Yes. Definitely.
What’s the funniest part?
(Tracy Flick strikes again but is interrupted by Cal.)
Something other than Lucy calling Charlie Brown ‘blockhead.’
Cal: Aww man!
Ava: It’s funny because Snoopy cooks the popcorn, and it overflows. That’s so funny.
(I agree with Ava, causing her to stick her tongue out at Cal.)
Cal: (Takes the high road) My favorite part…
Ava: I HAVE ANOTHER FAVORITE!
Wait your turn, please.
Cal: It’s when Snoopy (Erupts into indecipherable, nonsensical noise dealing with something about Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball video and Thanksgiving bloopers. Something from YouTube, I later gathered.) OK, it’s when Snoopy and Woodstock fight over the pilgrim suit.
Ava: No, it’s when Snoopy fights the chair.
Oh, yes, that’s your mom’s favorite part. Let’s talk about that. Why do you think the chair has its own personality?
Cal: (Ignoring the question) The funniest part is when we had our actual Charlie Brown feast and when Samuel [Cal’s friend] watched that and we called him Snoopy and we all said ‘You’re getting beat up by a chair’ and we all started laughing. It was a pretty funny moment.
Ava: You’re a blockhead.
(They begin to fight, throwing a small basket at each other. With a smile on my face so as not to convey seriousness, I threaten to cut the hands off the next child that touches the basket.)
(The basket is dropped.)
So what do you think about [Charlie Brown’s] Thanksgiving meal?
Ava: OH! It’s SO GOOD. I loved the jellybeans. I don’t love the pretzels. The popcorn… I don’t know, but when I put it in Sprite it tasted really bad. It fell in the Sprite. It was pretty gross.
Cal: I liked the pretzels, but I’d rather have no junk food at all. I want turkey and Honey Baked Ham.
(We’ve never actually ordered Honey Baked Ham for Thanksgiving, so I’m not sure where that came from.)
Do you think you’ll watch Charlie Brown when you have children?
Cal: (Interrupting, causing Ava to go into spasms) It won’t even be out on DVD, and it probably will be obliterated in the future.
(Ava takes the floor.)
Ava: I think my kids would really like it if I had any, but if they didn’t then we would never watch it again.
Well, it’s kind of a Thanksgiving family tradition for us. You wouldn’t continue that?
Ava: YES! I WOULD CARRY IT ON AS A TRADITION!!!! (Said with the same vocal expression as He-Man’s battle cry “I HAVE THE POWER!!!”)
Cal: I think my kids will hate it because I will show them really cool movies and they’ll be all “It’s old, dad. Put it up!”
But you like it?
But in 20 years it’ll be too old for your kids to watch?
Cal: I’m not going to get a wife until I’m 40. I’m going to be “homies” with my friends for a long part of my life.
OK. That’s a different conversation. Anything else you want to say about A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving?
(Again, Tracy Flick…)
Ava: I want to say that it’s really nice, and it has a bunch of lessons like both of ours…
Cal: (Interrupting) A bunch of Lexus’s?
Ava: LESSONS, blockhead!
Cal: Oh, lessons. I thought you said Lexus’s.
Ava: Umm. So it teaches us some stuff that we like, and sometimes Lucy’s mean and Charlie Brown has no hair.
Why do you think Charlie Brown has no hair?
Cal: I dunno.
Ava: He might have had cancer!
Cal: I don’t think they knew about cancer in the 1987s!
OK. Moving on. What about the pilgrims episode (The Mayflower Voyagers)? One of you likes that one better than the traditional Thanksgiving special.
Ava: (Flicking her hand up again.) I like the pilgrims.
Why do you like it better, though?
Ava: Oh, because Charlie Brown and all the Thanksgiving people come…
Cal: Thanksgiving people!?!?! But there’s no turkey!
Ava: (Ignoring) Umm. Franklin and Peppermint Patty and Marcie come. But the pilgrims one, they talk about the pilgrims and what they did.
So, let me see if I understand. The Peanuts characters are recast as pilgrim children, and you liked that?
Cal: The peanuts???
Well, that’s what they’re all called. It’s the Peanuts.
Cal: Well, that makes no sense.
Well, that’s what they’re called. Anyway, Cal, you like the traditional Charlie Brown special better, right? Why is that?
Cal: It doesn’t give as many valuable lessons as the first one. The first one is about don’t invite yourself and don’t be mean to others. The pilgrims one only teaches one lesson and that’s don’t go on other people’s property and kill them for no apparent reason.
Ava: Don’t kill pilgrims!!!
(They erupt into laughter as I try to soldier through the rest of the interview. The attention spans are going the way of the Native Americans at this point.)
Well, one of the nice things about this one is that it gives a different perspective of the Mayflower expedition – one from the viewpoint of the children and what it was like to be a child on the Mayflower.
Ava: (Still laughing) Sorry.
That’s ok. Can you imagine what it must have been like in the Mayflower like Charlie Brown and the gang?
Cal: It would be very, very, very, very…
Cal: You stole my thunder!
(The basket goes flying through the air. I ignore this, sensing an end nearing.)
It was dangerous and scary. Can you imagine what it must have been like sailing on a small ship not knowing where you were going?
Ava: What if in Disney World there was a ride in that ship???
Cal: There is a ride.
Cal: Yeah, it’s the Maelstrom, which was kind of like the Mayflower.
No (audible sigh). That ride has nothing to do with the Mayflower. It takes place in Norway.
Ava: Like Frozen!
Yes, like Frozen.
Ava: I like Frozen better than Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving.
Cal: You like Frozen better than you like me.
Ava: That’s true.
So, to wrap up, you’ll keep watching the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving specials because you find they have timeless lessons to teach. Am I summing that up right?
Cal: Yup, and I think Charlie Brown must have chugged some alcohol [after the events of the original episode].
I think I need to chug some alcohol right now.
Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours!
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and The Mayflower Voyagers will air Tuesday, November 24, on ABC at 8PM EST.