‘The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn’t’ (1972): The forgotten tradition of holiday specials

Since you’re not watching the NFL this Thanksgiving…how about some vintage Hanna-Barbera holiday fun?

By Paul Mavis

A few years ago, Warner Bros.’ Archive Collection released a crappy 1979 toon called Casper’s Halloween Special on m.o.d. disc. It’s rather dire, but the disc’s “added bonus,” the animated Thanksgiving special, The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn’t, which first aired in syndication back on November 21st, 1972, is a classic weirdo H-B offering that should easily take your mind off hilariously clueless, virtue-signalling multi-millionaire crybabies.

America, Fall, 1972. Little Jimmy and Janie, playing outside on a swing, are called for Thanksgiving dinner. Ready to dig in, their father asks them if they forgot something, and the family bows their head to pray. Outside the comfortable home, up a tree, Father Squirrel (voice talent of Vic Perrin) also watches his disgusting rodent family pray as his son (voice talent of June Foray) asks about how Thanksgiving came about—to which Father Squirrel states that if it wasn’t for his Great Great Great Grandfather Jeremy Squirrel (voice talent of Hal Smith), there wouldn’t be a human Thanksgiving.

Flashback: America, Fall, 1620. The Pilgrims, showing “hard work, perseverance, and courage,” fight back from lack of food and disease, to survive their first hard winter. In the spring, help from the local Indians leads to a bountiful harvest, which the Pilgrims plan on celebrating with their Indian brothers. Mirroring this development, Johnny Cook, a young Pilgrim boy, befriends a young Indian brave, Little Bear, son of Chief Massasoit. When their adventures that first Thanksgiving day take them away from the settlement, it’s up to Jeremy Squirrel, who got the two boys to stop fighting and be friends in the first place, to find them before vicious wolves rip them apart.

Produced and directed for syndicated TV markets by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, based on a story by soon-to-be rivals-in-animation, Ken Spears and Joe Ruby, The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn’t is so well remembered by adults from my generation because it was one of the very few animated prime-time toons that was built around the Thanksgiving holiday. You can probably name twenty classic Christmas toons right off the top of your head, and even a handful for Halloween…but how many were specifically produced for Thanksgiving back during the 1970s?

Watching it again here for about the 30th time (I know I caught it on TV most years up to the 1980s…only to start all over again in the 90s with my kids and Boomerang), it’s impossible not to like this silly, action-filled outing the minute you hear its catchy, moonshine jug, thud-puckin’ theme song, complete with those insane kazoos and Don Messick’s big, booming bass drops (H-B were geniuses when it came to instant “grab ya” theme songs). After just the first few bars, we’re hooked on that classic, golden Hanna-Barbera nostalgia that sticks to adults from my generation like bad cholesterol to our narrowing arteries.

Produced in 1972, before political correctness had seeped out of the liberal universities to infect and destroy our national culture, you won’t have to worry about sitting down your Little Johnny and Janie to watch The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn’t, only to have them see the Pilgrims being portrayed as either backward dolts who needed to be spoon-fed like babies by the Indians, or the even more popular canard that they were cold-eyed genocidal racists looking to scam the New World away from those trusting, childlike-yet-ever-so-wise, sartorially-challenged Indians (what the hell goes with beaver pelt?). The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn’t comes from a long-gone time in American entertainment when, no matter how gussied up it was for entertainment purposes, a history lesson aimed at an American child was first and foremost a celebration of what used to be—and what could be—great about this country.

In The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn’t, we’re given just a quick timeline of the Pilgrims coming to America, with a rightly justified nod to their bravery and tenacity (good luck hearing that coming from your own Little Johnny’s socialist millennial school teacher today). Here, when Johnny and Little Bear are lost in the woods, they buck themselves up by both stating they’re proud of their heritages, before the rest of the episode goes into a busy but toned-down Jonny Quest Goes Native playlet. Little kids will enjoy Jeremy Squirrel scampering around trying to save the boys, while you’ll crack up at unintentionally funny stuff like 1972 Jimmy’s weirdly androgynous mixture of June Foray’s Rocky Squirrel voice coming out of his hybrid Cindy Williams/Rosie O’Donnell head, or the modern children’s positively morose, funereal reply, “Yes, Daaaaaad,” as they’re forced to pray before digging into dinner. So this Thanksgiving, when you’re taking a pass on unpatriotic thugs and that fourth piece of pumpkin pie, pop in The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn’t for a heaping helping of positive, long may they American waves.

Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.

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