Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn't

Premiered November 21, 1972.

On Thanksgiving Day, a squirrel tells his son the story of Jeremy Squirrel and the first Thanksgiving.

British settlers arrive in Plymouth, MA in 1620.  The first year is a difficult one, many settlers die. But with help from the resident Native Americans, the colony manages to make it through that first year and the settlers and the natives plan a big harvest feast.

On the morning of the first Thanksgiving, a boy named Johnny Cooke goes out to play "hunter" in the forest.

He's hunting for a turkey when he encounters an Indian boy named Little Bear.  They quarrel over which one is the better hunter.  Jeremy Squirrel arrives and tells the boys they should be friends rather than rivals.  Johnny and Little Bear agree and shake hands.

Peacemaking squirrel. 
The day of the Thanksgiving feast arrives and everyone is working hard to prepare the food.  Little Bear and Johnny go to play in the woods.  Jeremy realizes they'll get lost and he chases after them.

Their parents grow worried.  A search party of pilgrims and Indians sets out to find the boys.  Johnny and Little Bear try to find their way home in the dark, but go in the wrong direction. Luckily, Jeremy finds them and leads them on the correct path.  He gets some of his animal friends to accompany the boys on their journey homeward.

Everything seems to be okay until the boys encounter a wolf!  It chases Johnny and Little Bear with deadly intentions.

Will the boys be saved?  Or will the wolf turn the boys into his Thanksgiving Dinner?

J.A. Morris says:

This is special aired in syndication in the 1970s and 1980s.  But I only recall seeing it once, so I don't bring a lot of nostalgia to this review.   

The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn't isn't a great special, but it's okay if you're seeking light holiday entertainment aimed at kids.

The voice acting credits don't really tell you who voiced which character, but this special features some of the greatest voice actors of all time.  It's always nice to hear the voice work of June Foray, Don Messick and Hal Smith.  I'm pretty sure we hear the voice of Thurl Ravenscroft (most famous for singing "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" and Tony the Tiger). Some of the background music here is easily recognizable from other Hanna-Barbera productions.  The "chase music"  heard near the end was used in countless episodes of Scooby Doo and it's used well here.

Goofy wolf.
But The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn't has problems.  Jeremy and the other animals are cute and likeable, but the human characters aren't particularly interesting.  The wolf that threatens the boys is more goofy looking than scary.

The special also relies too much on recycled animation.  I expect to see some of that in old cartoons, but it's ridiculous in this case.  Sometimes we see the exact same scene a few seconds after we've just seen it.  The special's theme song is catchy, but  it's overused.  We get to hear it three times during the special's 25-minute running time.

The Settlers and the Indians search for the boys.
On a positive note, American Indians aren't portrayed in an ugly stereotypical manner, which is often the case in depictions of the first Thanksgiving.  It's also worth noting that the character Johnny Cooke is based on a real person and his father Francis was among those who signed the Mayflower Compact.

This special is available on dvd.  You can find it as a supplement on Casper's Halloween Special.  In recent years, it's been shown on Cartoon Network and it's sister channel Boomerang, so check your local listings.

The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn't is okay, worth watching at least once.  Fans of the aforementioned voice actors will want to check out this special. 

J.A. Morris's rating:

2 and a half pumpkin pies.

RigbyMel says:

This animated special has its heart in the right place, but just doesn't gel for me. As J.A. Morris says above, there is a lot of recycled animation used.  A LOT!  This wouldn't be as big of a deal if the story was better.    There is plenty of drama in the real interactions between early British settlers and the Native Americans -- even if some of it wouldn't make for warm and fuzzy family viewing.

The talking squirrel angle, which is intended to be cute and appeal to the child audience this special is aimed at, feels tacked on instead.  It's also inconsistent.   Why can Jeremy the squirrel be understood by the two boys, but not by the adults looking for them?

Why aren't Johnny and Little Bear more surprised by the talking squirrel?    Why on earth should we care about the silly framing device with modern squirrel and human families that have no interaction to speak of?   It just doesn't quite work for me!  I have no problem with talking animals in cartoons generally, but this just feels unnecessary.

Then there is the song ... which is grating in the extreme,  yet the lyrics are oddly unmemorable.  It's mildly annoying the first time they use it in this special, but the annoyance factor ratchets up as it is repeated.  I think we hear it 3 or maybe even 4 times!

I don't remember ever seeing this special before and I wouldn't recommend seeing it unless you are a huge fan of the voice actors.

RigbyMel's rating:

1 and a half pumpkin pies

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Bob Newhart Show: "Over The River And Through The Woods"

Premiered November 22nd, 1975

Jerry:This is the worst Thanksgiving I ever had.
Bob:I knew it was gonna be bad, but I didn't know it was gonna be this bad this early.

It's autumn in Chicago and Thanksgiving is approaching.

Psychologist Dr. Bob Hartley (Bob Newhart) and his wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette) are planning to spend Thanksgiving with Emily's family in Seattle.

Elliot Carlin stepping into Bob's office. 
One of Bob's patients, Elliot Carlin is worried about Thanksgiving.  Carlin hates the holidays.  He's still depressed that no one knocked on his door on Halloween and he's dreading Thanksgiving.  With Carlin in such despair, Bob thinks he should stay in Chicago to help his patient.  It also doesn't hurt that he's not terribly enthusiastic about going to see Emily's family in Seattle.

Bob wins a tiny turkey in a raffle. 
When Emily hears about this, she says Bob can do what he likes for Thanksgiving, but she still is going to Seattle without Bob.  Realizing he'll be alone at Thanksgiving,  Dr. Hartley invites his patient Mr. Carlin, and his colleague Dr. Jerry Robinson (Peter Bonerz) (who has no family) to his house for the holiday. Jerry is excited about watching football on Thanksgiving, because his Alma Mater William & Mary is playing in a televised game.

Bob unsuccessfully attempts to flip a pancake. 
The holiday morning arrives, Bob misses Emily, who always made pancakes for him on Thanksgivings of the past.

Jerry in his W&M sweater,  jug in hand. 
Jerry arrives with a jug filled with vodka and cider (but mostly vodka).  William & Mary is losing their game badly so he takes a drink every time the other team scores.  Mr. Carlin shows up in his usual pessimistic mood.  He has brought a bottle of scotch to go with Jerry's booze.  Bob's neighbor Howard (Bill Daly) shows up as well.  Howard was supposed to spend the holiday with his son, but plans have changed and he is also left alone on Thanksgiving.

The gang watches football.  Carlin comments that this is the worst party he's ever been to.
All four of them are lonely and depressed.  Everyone decides to drown their sorrows in alcohol. They have a tiny turkey, but no one is sure of how to cook it.

Bob drunkenly attempts to order some takeout. 
Will they still manage to have a good Thanksgiving feast?

J.A. Morris says:

It's hard to this episode justice.  The plot of "Over The River And Through The Woods" is basically "Bob Hartley & friends get drunk on Thanksgiving,"  but  there's more to it than that.

Jack Riley is absolutely brilliant here as Elliot Carlin .  He stays in "deadpan" mode throughout the episode while everyone around him is howling drunk with laughter.  Riley's delivery (or lack thereof!) is especially great when he tries to tell knock-knock jokes.

Bob and Emily are usually the level-headed characters surrounded by quirky oddballs.  But this episode shows that after a few shots of alcohol, Dr. Hartley is just as goofy as Howard and Jerry.  It shows that without Emily, Bob is adrift, and she's the real brains of the marriage.

Like most Thanksgiving episodes (including an earlier Thanksgiving episode of this series), food preparation comes into play.  It often involves arguments over how to make the food, but in this case, no one knows how to cook a turkey.  The most important "turkey" moment involves one of this episode's many knock-knock jokes, which I won't spoil.

At its heart, "Over The River And Through The Woods" is another Thanksgiving episode where lonely people find common ground with others and create a "family" of sorts for the holiday.

As an added "bonus," the characters wear 1975 fashions that haven't aged very well.  The clothes increase the comedic value of this episode.  Bob's leisure suit is especially ridiculous.

Gotta love those plaid pants!

This episode is available for viewing on dvd.  You'll find it on The Bob Newhart Show:The Complete Fourth Season.

"Over The River And Through The Woods" is one of the best episodes of The Bob Newhart Show.   It's also one of the greatest Thanksgiving episodes in the history of television.  On a personal note, I quote this episode year-round.  Highly recommended!

J.A. Morris' rating:

4 pumpkin pies!

RigbyMel says:

This is a silly, funny episode of a great show.

I enjoy the drunken hijinks of the cast but question whether they actually would have been televising a football game featuring William & Mary (MY alma mater) on TV in Chicago in 1975.  (W&M is a small school, and football is not their forte.)

Jerry explains how bad the holidays were at the orphanage when he was a kid. 
I also think the deconstruction of knock knock jokes, which is a running gag through much of the episode, is pretty on the nose.

Male bonding over booze.
As J.A. Morris says, we visit the trope of lonely people forming a surrogate family for the holidays in this episode, but with a twist -- of vodka and cider and scotch -- which certainly makes it interesting even if the silliness gets the better of it in spots.

I don't have as strong a liking for this episode as my co-blogger, but it is most definitely worth watching.

RigbyMel's rating:

3 pumpkin pies.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air: "Talking Turkey"

Premiered November 19, 1990.

Hello Sally?  This is Vivian Banks.  You had us scheduled for a Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. We'd like to cancel it.  Well, were gonna have the kids make dinner.  What do you mean "good luck?"
-Vivian Banks

It's the day before Thanksgiving and the Banks family is getting ready for the holiday.

Will's (Will Smith) mother Violo "Vy" Smith (Vernee Watson) comes to visit for the first time since she sent him to live in Bel Air with her sister's family.

She is happy to see Will, but is shocked at the way he and the Banks' kids act around the house.  They seem to have no responsibilities, since most of the household work is done by their butler Geoffrey (Joseph Marcell).  Vy puts the kids the work, making them clear the table and do yard work.

Carlton and Hilary have no idea how to put dishes in the dishwasher.
In addition to Vy, there will be another dinner guest at Thanksgiving.  The Banks' son Carlton (Alphonso Ribeiro) has invited his English teacher Ned Fellows (Jonathan Emerson) to join them.  Mr. Fellows has no family nearby, plus Carlton's grades have been slipping and he hopes this gesture will help.

Vy confronts her sister Vivian (Janet Hubert) about their lifestyle.  She says her sister spoils her kids and Will.  Vy is worried that the only thing Will is learning is "how to be a rich kid."

A heated discussion between sisters. 
Vivian is stung by this criticism and denies it.  She discusses the matter with her husband Phil (James Avery), who thinks Vy has a point.  Vivian cancels their catered Thanksgiving dinner and decides that Will and his cousins will prepare the meal.

Vivian cancels the catered Thanksgiving dinner!
On the morning of Thanksgiving, Vivian gets the kids out of bed early to start preparing the feast. She barks orders and seems to be channeling her sister Vy.

Carlton, Will, Hilary (Karyn Parsons) and Ashley (Tatyana Ali) are rudely awakened by Vivian.
Carlton is worried that the change of dinner plans will jeopardize his plan to impress his teacher.

Will and his cousins get started in the kitchen.  None of them has any idea how to cook.

Will Thanksgiving dinner be a disaster in the Banks household?

J.A. Morris says:

This is a solid holiday episode of a 1990s sitcom.

It utilizes two common tropes seen in Thanksgiving programming:

1.Visiting relatives getting on each others' nerves (also present in Christmas film & television).
2.Arguments about food preparation that usually lead to culinary disasters.

Hilary versus a poppin' fresh muffin tin!
In this case, Vivian knowingly sabotages Thanksgiving dinner just to make a point to Vy.  We can understand why Vivian would be upset at being labeled a bad mother, but ruining the dinner for everyone is a bit over the top.

Carlton reads Ashley a story about the first Thanksgiving.
The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air featured a good ensemble cast.  When you watch it today, you can see that Will Smith was by far the most talented actor on the show.  In 1990, he was known only for his work as a rapper, but in this episode, he already shows the humor and charisma that would make him a major movie star.

There's also a funny but sweet moment where the family dances to the Temptations' "Ain't To Proud To Beg."  Phil tries to teach his kids how do to The Swim, which gives James Avery a chance to show off some nice dance moves.

"Talking Turkey" is no classic, but it's an enjoyable episode that makes me laugh a few times with every viewing.  It's especially recommended for fans of Will Smith and admirers of 1990s clothing trends (which my co-blogger discusses below in more detail).

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 pumpkin pies

The family gathers around the table as is often portrayed on TV and film.
RigbyMel says:

This is a solid, fun Thanksgiving episode, but not necessarily a "classic".

Mr. Fellows samples Carlton's (gloppy) dressing.  Yish!
There are the expected cooking disasters and family tensions, as J.A. Morris points out above.  My only issue with the way the plot plays out is that it seems to me that anyone asking kids to cook  in an attempt to teach them about responsibility would perhaps opt to supervise their work in the kitchen rather than leaving them to their own devices.    On the other hand,  without the supervision, I guess we do not have much of a plot.

Cranberry sauce on the floor in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... 
This episode also highlights an aspect of family via the relationship between Vivian and Vy -- when family gets together, sometimes we revert to roles from when we were younger.  

The Banks family gets down to the Temptations.
One gets the impression that Vy is (perhaps) the elder sibling of the two and feels responsible for looking out for Vivian, even if her looking out comes in the form of observations that Vivian finds uncomfortable.   Vivian finds that Vy may have a point (reinforced by her subsequent conversation with her husband) and decides to act on that advice in a somewhat rash manner.    I know I've been at family get-togethers and had siblings say things to me that cut me to the quick and caused me to react rashly, so this feels pretty relate-able.

Behold the 1980s slowly turning into the 1990s in a single outfit!
On a different note, it's fun to watch old sitcoms like this for the fashions and material culture on show sometimes.   This episode features some rather fabulous and far out examples of late 1980s/early 1990s style.

If you like Will Smith or miss the 1990s, this episode is worth a look.

RigbyMel's rating:

2 and a half pumpkin pies