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

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