10 Bonkers Behind-The-Scenes Facts About 'A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving'
Ahhh, Thanksgiving, that lovely time of year when we gather together to stuff our faces with turkey,
enter the political Thunderdome with our aunt who only shares Minions memes on Facebook exchange non-partisan pleasantries over pumpkin pie, and revel in viewing our favorite 1973 animated special for the millionth time – A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.
Yet even after watching Snoopy whip up a Thanksgiving dinner for the Peanuts gang that could make even Gordon Ramsey weep tears of pride roughly 48 times since the special first made its mark as a Thanksgiving tradition 48 years ago, there's much more to the program than meets the eye – yes, even after nearly 50 viewings.
From the struggles of getting the perfect Charlie Brown “AAAAAAARRRRRGGGGG” to the male voice actor behind Peppermint Patty catalyzing the success of Mad Max: Fury Road, here are 10 fascinating facts about A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.
The Streaming Wars Has Made Watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving A Bit More Complicated
Although the Thanksgiving movie may have aired for the first time on our parents' 1973 Panasonic Quatrecolor Color TV (or your 1973 Panasonic Quatrecolor Color TV, for the Boomers out there reading this) the means of watching the special has drastically changed since its small-screen debut.
A longtime cable TV holiday staple, airing on CBS for nearly 30 years from its premiere until 2001 and then on ABC, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving – as well as A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, for that matter – all made headlines last year after Apple announced it had “become the home for all things ‘Peanuts.'" A joint venture with WildBrain, Peanuts Worldwide and Lee Mendelson Film Productions, the endeavor was aimed at "bringing together new original series and specials, along with iconic beloved specials to fans around the world, all in one place," the tech giant explained in a press release at the time. Alongside the announcement, the company said that they'd also let Peanuts fans stream the Thanksgiving classic for free between November 25 and November 27, 2020.
This year, however, is a bit different. While A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving did grace the cable airwaves this year, appearing on PBS and PBS Kids last Sunday, November 21 at 7:30 p.m., Apple has decided to take a different approach to its seasonal streaming offerings. While you can stream the special without paying the price as a part of Apple TV+'s 7-day free trial, those who have already used that sweet, sweet streaming grace period will have to pony up $5.99 for an Apple TV+ subscription for their Thanksgiving Peanuts fix.
Lee Mendleson Was Overruled About Woodstock's Questionable Thanksgiving Dinner
One of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving's most iconic scenes comes towards the end of the special when Snoopy and Woodstock get together outside of the beloved beagle's doghouse to enjoy a nice Thanksgiving turkey, capping off an episode defined by Lucy's classic football gag, Peppermint Patty inviting herself to Thanksgiving, a lyrical analysis of “Over The River and Through The Woods” and uhhhhh, subtle cannibalism? Yep, In 2014, the late Lee Mendelson, who produced several of the Peanuts animated specials throughout the years, revealed that he fought against including that final clip of Snoopy's avian pal chowing down on a fellow bird as it technically constitutes an act of cartoon cannibalism.
“We had a rare, minor dispute during the creation of the show,” Mendleson explained in a 2013 essay for HuffPost. “Mr. Schulz insisted that Woodstock join Snoopy in carving and eating a turkey,” he continued, referencing Charles M. Schulz, the creator of Peanuts. “For some reason I was bothered that Woodstock would eat a turkey. I voiced my concern, which was immediately overruled.”
After all, what's Thanksgiving dinner without a little bit of cannibalism, right guys? Guys? …Guys? Nevermind.
But Mendleson Ultimately Got His Way on the Turkey Issue – Kinda
Mendleson may have initially found himself outnumbered over the issue of Woodstock's Thanksgiving fare, but he got the last laugh – at least for a little while.
“Years later, when CBS cut the show from its original 25 minutes to 22 minutes, I sneakily edited out the scene of Woodstock eating,” Mendleson confessed in the same essay. Unfortunately for the producer, it seems this sly scene snipping was ultimately reverted back to its original state a few years later.
“When we moved to ABC in 2001, the network (happily) elected to restore all the holiday shows to the original 25 minutes.” Apparently realizing this was his version of Charlie Brown's elusive football, Mendleson ultimately threw in the towel, deciding to let it go. “I finally have given up,” he wrote.
Charlie Brown and Lucy van Pelt Kept In Touch Long After Their Thanksgiving Shenanigans
Despite Lucy's penchant for pulling the football out from under Charlie's cartoon feet every time he attempts to practice his punt, it seems there's no bad blood between the iconic Peanuts frenemies – well, at least the actors who portrayed them. Several years back, Todd Barbee, the actor behind the eponymous Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, revealed that he and his costar Robin Kohn, who voiced Lucy van Pelt, were still in touch as of 2014.
“We actually went to high school together,” Barbee told pop culture blog Noblemania. “We still live in Marin County, are Facebook friends, and occasionally see each other.”
Peanuts Characters Were A Thanksgiving Staple Even Before The Special Premiered
Although the name “Charlie Brown” may be synonymous with Thanksgiving festivities today, it seems he also played a role in the November holiday before the special aired in 1973, with the character and his animated pals making regular appearances in The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade throughout the years.
In 1967, Charlie Brown made his parade debut, appearing on the float for his titular play, You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, an attraction that returned the following year. However, the float for the off-Broadway show wasn't the only Peanuts representation in 1968. That same year, Snoopy joined the party, with a 50-foot tall balloon of the beagle in his aviator gear also making its way down the parade route.
In the decades that followed, the Peanuts gang have become a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade staple, with either one or both of the series's leading characters appearing most years. While Charlie Brown typically shows up alongside his elusive football or his tangled kite, Snoopy also has been featured in various forms, including donning an astronaut's suit and in coordinating sweaters with his pal Woodstock, apparently giving everyone's mothers terrible, terrible ideas for holiday fashion statements.
Charlie Brown Had Some Trouble With His Signature “AAAAAAARRRRRGGGGG”
Although yelling in frustration after your best frenemy yanks the football out from underneath your punting foot for the umpteenth time may seem like an easy task, such was not the case on the set of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, according to Barbee.
“One time they wanted me to voice that ‘AAAAAAARRRRRGGGGG’ when Charlie Brown goes to kick the football and Lucy yanks it away,” he recalled in his interview with Noblemania. “Try as I might, I just couldn’t generate long they were looking for.” Although Barbee says he was on the hook for “something like 25 takes,” a feat that left him “sweating the whole time," it seems his hard work may have been for nothing.
“I think they eventually got an adult or a kid with an older voice to do that one take,” he explained. It is unclear if Barbee took after his character and yelled ‘AAAAAAARRRRRGGGGG’ upon learning he had been dubbed over.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Let Animators Play With New Styles of Animation
As a typically wholesome, family-friendly offering, Peanuts rarely ventured into the world of classic slapstick cartoon work. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving changed that, according to Mendelson, allowing animators the rare chance to draw an unusually angry Snoopy duking it out with an inanimate object.
“This was one of the few times in the 60 specials that we did that we actually did what I would call old-fashioned slapstick animation — when Snoopy gets in a fight with the chair, and then when Woodstock gets flattened with the basketball," he explained.
The Special Marked The First Time An Adult Voice Could Be Heard In Peanuts Specials
Aside from being the first animated series to feature bird-cannibalism (well, probably), A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving also served as a monumental moment for the PCU (Peanuts Cinematic Universe), marking the first time an adult had lent their voice to the series. Known for dubbing adults with the “wah wah wah” trombone effect, the notable grown-up addition comes via the absolute banger of “Little Birdie,” sung by the late Vince Guaraldi, the composer known for dreaming up some of Peanuts's most iconic songs, including the classic “Linus and Lucy.”
“Guaraldi was one of the main reasons our shows got off to such a great start,” Mendleson explained in his HuffPost piece. “His ‘Linus and Lucy,’ introduced in A Charlie Brown Christmas, set the bar for the first 16 shows for which he created all the music. For our Thanksgiving show, he told me he wanted to sing a new song he had written for Woodstock,” the producer continued, explaining that he “agreed with much trepidation as I had never heard him sing a note." However, it seems this trust ultimately paid off.
"His singing of "Little Birdie" became a hit," Mendleson recalled.
The Gang's Thanksgiving Seating Arrangements Prompted a Debate Over Racism Back in 2018
In recent years, the special has faced accusations of racism surrounding the seating arrangement of Charlie Brown's titular Thanksgiving celebration. On one side of the comically long table, Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Sally, and Peppermint Patty all sit in a row. On the other side Franklin, the show's sole Black character sits alone, a bizarre placement that has prompted several fans to raise questions about why the table was set in such a manner.
“This unedited image is from a 1973 cartoon that I watched every single Thanksgiving as a kid,” recalled Twitter user @gradydoctor in a post from 2020. “Seeing Franklin at that table was a big deal to us. Dang. Diversity without equity and inclusion is a sad, subtle thing, isn’t it? Then and now.”
“Time for our annual love and disappointment that Franklin is sitting on one side of the table all by himself,” added Twitter user @MsKDD72 in another post from the same year.
According to Darnell Hunt, a UCLA dean of social sciences, the implications of this isolating seating chart span beyond the scope of the cartoon, carrying some real-world implications. While Hunt, who also teaches sociology and African American studies at the southern California university, said that seeing Franklin featured in the Peanuts comics for the first time made him feel “included in ways I hadn’t before,” he maintains A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving missed the mark with its table layout, sending concerning messages to Peanuts fans. By placing Franklin “on this long side by himself,” he says, viewers “could interpret it that no one wanted to sit next to him,” a subtle detail that serves as a “classic example” of ways creators can still make concerning errors “even when you’re trying to be inclusive.”
“Today this would not be acceptable,” Hunt told Yahoo! Life last November. “It really does speak to the need for more inclusive creators and storytellers behind the scenes who produce these images.” he continued. “That’s why it’s so important to have people in the writers’ room and in production who might be more sensitive to these issues.”
However, it wasn't always like this. As Jeremy Helligar, a Black reporter, noted in a viral 2018 Medium post, just one year earlier, Franklin ate alongside his pals in Snoopy Come Home.
"A relevant aside: During the farewell dinner about one hour and five minutes into 1972’s Snoopy Come Home, Franklin was seated on the same side of the table as Charlie Brown, Lucy, and Frieda — in a regular chair," Helligar explained in the essay discussing the controversy.
Peppermint Patty Was Voiced By A Boy … Who Would Go On To Create Mad Max: Fury Road
Long before Nancy Cartwright gained international fame for voicing Bart Simpson, there was yet another gender-bending trailblazer in the world of voice acting. In 1973, Chris DeFaria lent his vocal cords to the beloved Peanuts tomboy, Peppermint Patty, a role he recorded at age 11. Even though starring in one of the most revered Thanksgiving holiday specials of all time seems like a pretty impressive flex, then 13-year-old DeFaria didn't want the world to know he voiced a girl, opting to keep his involvement relatively low-key. “I kept it a secret the entire time,” he explained in a 2014 interview with Noblemania. “I had a nickname at the time, Kip. Everyone knew me as Kip, so I wanted them to credit me as Chris so people wouldn’t know I was playing a girl,” he added.
Despite this Peanut-y success, DeFaria seemingly had a different vision for his career, one definitely not determined by the fact that it would be pretty darn weird for a fully-grown man to voice a young girl for the rest of his life. In what is the most rational career move since Frankie Muniz left behind his legacy as that kid from Malcolm in the Middle to become a successful open-wheel racecar driver, DeFaria retired from voice acting in 1973 to pursue another exciting endeavor – creating a series of (largely) ultra-violent flicks.
Although his producing career began in the early '90s, working on horror movies including Amityville: It's About Time, Amityville: A New Generation and the 1995 comedy Live Nude Girls, he later spanned to some more family-friendly films, including Cats & Dogs and Looney Tunes: Back in Action. In recent years, the former voice actor has executive produced several blockbusters including Mad Max: Fury Road, Sucker Punch, and the most violent movie of all – 2021's Tom & Jerry.
Top Image: United Features Syndicate