Things Only Adults Notice In A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

The "Peanuts" gang has been entertaining audiences since 1950, when Charles M. Schulz debuted his comic strip in just seven newspapers (via Charles M. Schulz Museum). 

The enormous success of the 1965 TV special "A Charlie Brown Christmas" inspired the production team to create more shows featuring good ol' Charlie Brown and his friends. Succeeding years brought us shows like "Charlie Brown's All-Stars" and "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," before the debut of "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" in 1973. 

The Emmy Award-winning special became immediately memorable for its cute plot: On Thanksgiving morning, Charlie Brown suddenly finds himself asked to host a dinner for his friends, even though he already has plans. Plus, he's not exactly a "Chopped Junior" contender. But, with the help of Linus and Snoopy, everything works out in the end (via Peanuts Wiki)

The show was a staple of network TV until recently, when Apple TV bought the broadcast rights. However, nonsubscribers protested so loudly that the media giant agreed to let it be shown on PBS for one night. "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" will air on Nov. 21, 2021, at 7:30 p.m. ET (via CheatSheet). 

As we all know, watching a cartoon for the 20th time as an adult is very different from seeing it for the first time as a child. While your kids are delighting at the characters' antics, you might notice some details that go over children's heads.

Why is Charlie Brown the only one with Thanksgiving plans?

It's established early on in the show that Charlie Brown and his family are going to his grandma's house for Thanksgiving. 

But Peppermint Patty sets the plot wheels in motion by calling him up to say that she has permission to have dinner at his place (via IMDb). True to his wishy-washy rep, Charlie Brown can't bring himself to say that he already has plans, much less yell at his friend for inviting herself over. 

Not only does Peppermint Patty show up at the Browns' early on Thanksgiving, but she also brings along pals Marcie and Franklin. Charlie's best friend, Linus, comes to help out with the food prep. At 4, realizing he's running late, Charlie Brown calls his grandmother, who invites all his friends over (exactly how big a turkey did she get?). Charlie, sister Sally, and the guests hop in the station wagon, and off they go.

So let's sum up. On the morning of a major American family holiday, four children are free not only to nosh at a friend's place but also to travel out of town for another meal. 

And, in the midst of all this, the adult Browns are totally unaware. They don't even go downstairs when they hear popcorn popping. Granted, you have to suspend your disbelief when you watch the "Peanuts" shows, but this one is a stretch even by normal standards. 

The menu actually makes sense for kids

The comedy in this particular "Peanuts" holiday special comes from the odd dinner that Charlie Brown sets out in his backyard. Since he can barely pour a bowl of cereal, he enlists Snoopy and Linus to put together a menu that doesn't require an advanced culinary degree to prepare: popcorn, pretzels, jelly beans, and buttered toast. (Why do the Browns have all that bread and seven toasters, anyway?)

When supper is served, Peppermint Patty is outraged: She was expecting the traditional turkey dinner. Marcie gently reminds her that she pretty much forced Charlie Brown to whip up a meal with no advance notice. Then, Linus, ever the gang's moral center, reminds everyone of the importance of thankfulness.

But let's rethink this menu for a minute. Remember, the children are only about 5 or 6 years old. As The New York Times points out, a traditional Thanksgiving dinner isn't exactly an ideal meal for this age group. If you're lucky, they'll take a nibble of turkey and mashed potatoes, push the green bean casserole around on the plate, inhale a couple of buttered rolls, and then go play on their tablets until dessert. 

Most kids would be thrilled to have a plate of popcorn and jelly beans instead. Oh, and let's not forget that Snoopy serves ice cream sundaes afterward. Who needs pumpkin pie?

Franklin is an awkward addition

Franklin Armstrong was a groundbreaking character when he debuted in 1968. Charles Schulz had been hesitant to bring a Black child into the comic strip because he didn't want to come off as "condescending" in the volatile Civil Rights era. 

But, after some urging by two fans — a Black schoolteacher and a friend of hers who wanted his children to see someone like themselves in a setting like "Peanuts" — Schulz created Franklin (via Click2Houston).

But, despite Schulz's good intentions, his attempt at integrating the "Peanuts" gang has been seen as lukewarm. Franklin is a bland personality, and his appearances in the TV specials are almost an afterthought. 

In "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving," Franklin is invited to Charlie Brown's place by Peppermint Patty. He asks if he should wear a tie, gives a "soul" handshake to Chuck, and that's about all we hear from him. Critics have also noted that, at the backyard holiday feast, Franklin sits by himself on the left side of the table, which could be seen as a type of segregation.

Schulz's widow, Jean, has addressed the controversy by explaining that her husband wasn't involved in the animation process but that there was "no ulterior motive" in showing Franklin sitting apart from his friends (via Yahoo!). "To suggest the show had any other messages than the importance of family, sharing and gratitude is to look for an issue where there is none," she said.

What happened to Lucy?

Lucy Van Pelt may be a pain in the butt, but she's still one of the key players in the "Peanuts" world. She can take charge at a Halloween party one minute and offer advice as a self-employed psychiatrist the next. And, for all her moodiness and put-downs, she still stands out as a strong female figure who won't let anyone take advantage of her. 

She even has her tender moments, believe it or not. In "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," when Linus gives up trick-or-treating to await the magical gourd, Lucy collects extra candy for him and wakes up at 4 a.m. to bring him in from the pumpkin patch so he doesn't die of hypothermia.

So, where is she during "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving"? Tor points out that Lucy appears in the cold opening to play her annual yank-the-football trick on Charlie Brown but never shows up afterward. It seems odd that such a prominent character would be absent from a holiday event, even if it just involves a ping-pong table and random food. 

We can also assume that the Van Pelts eat their own holiday meal without Linus. Is Lucy glad to have her parents' attention all to herself, or is she secretly wishing that she were going to Grandma Brown's place, too?

What's with Snoopy's dinner?

In the tag scene of "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving," we see Snoopy and Woodstock one last time. Now on their own after the kids have left for Grandma Brown's, they get down to their real business. 

After setting up a table for two, Snoopy dons his chef hat again and comes out with a full turkey dinner, complete with pumpkin pie for dessert. Putting aside the issue of how a doghouse is equipped with a full kitchen, the bigger issue is why this talented beagle is holding out on Charlie Brown and his pals. He lets them settle for toast and candy, knowing full well that he has the real deal waiting in the wings. Man's best friend? Ha!

Pet lovers might wince at seeing a dog eating so much people food. The American Kennel Club warns pet owners that, while a little plain turkey meat or sweet potato is good for dogs, other Thanksgiving foods can be harmful, including turkey skin, sweets, grapes and raisins, onions, and anything fatty or spiced. 

Then there's Woodstock. He may be sweet and occasionally misdirected, but consider this: He's a bird ... eating turkey. Normally, you'd see that kind of carnivorous behavior in raptors like hawks and eagles, but Woodstock is more of a canary sort. Shouldn't someone tell him that he's dining on a distant relative?

Another "Peanuts" Thanksgiving special was shelved

Viewers of a certain age may recall that "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" used to air as a two-part special, with the addition of a cartoon that came out in 1988. Part of "This Is America, Charlie Brown," a children's history series, "The Mayflower Voyagers" cartoon featured the "Peanuts" crew as Pilgrims trying to start a new life in America (via The TVDB). As such, it bends the rules of the "Peanuts" world by including (non-nonsense-speaking) adults in the narrative.

Despite the show's attempt at accuracy — it details the dismal Mayflower journey and the harsh conditions that killed many of the settlers — it takes some uncomfortable liberties with history. "The Mayflower Voyagers" portrays a warm and fuzzy friendship between the Plymouth colonists and the indigenous Wampanoag tribe. 

In reality, the Wampanoag were actually mistrustful of the newcomers because earlier English settlers had killed many of their people, per The Atlantic. They finally decided that the colonists might be useful in helping them defeat their rivals, the Narragansetts. And, while the Pilgrims and Wampanoag did sit down to that famous harvest feast, it wasn't long before the tribe was targeted for extermination by the colonists. 

"The Mayflower Voyagers" is still available on DVD, but stations have stopped airing it, along with the other Thanksgiving show. And perhaps it's just as well: Knowing the actual history of the first Thanksgiving, watching Charlie Brown and his buddies playing the song "Linus and Lucy" for their indigenous guests likely wouldn't sit too well with audiences today.