My favorite holiday is and always has been Thanksgiving. No gifts that you have to buy, no annoying carols clogging up the radio stations, all you have to do is eat and veg out in front of the TV. My kind of holiday. (If you didn’t have to put up with the family, Thanksgiving would be perfect.)
But as cool as Thanksgiving is, the holiday has never had any iconic TV specials. Thanksgiving has never had any instantly memorable specials that could be its’ equivalent to Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer or It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. (Yeah, there was A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, but I don’t count that; that special was never all that spectacular, it just recycled a lot of the same beats from A Charlie Brown Christmas, not to mention depicting some of the most negligent parents in fiction. Seriously, who leaves their kids alone in the house to fend for themselves on Thanksgiving day? That’s cold, bro!)
Which is not to say that there haven’t been any notable Thanksgiving specials. One such title is the topic of the today’s TV Special Showdown, Nickelodeon’s Thanksgiving Fest, which first hit the airwaves on the World’s First Kids’ Network in 1989.
The special had a unique style and presentation to it; it was a lot like watching Nick’s animated promos at the time in a half-hour format. In fact, one of the directors of the special was Joey Ahlbum, the man responsible for many of Nick’s animated spots and bumpers, such as the famous “doo-wop dinos” spot. Ahlbum also did some spots for Nick At Nite and would later produce the short “Zoonatics” for Cartoon Network.
Rather than showcasing a single show-length story, Nick’s Thanksgiving Fest offered 2 short subjects, “Thanksgiving Nightmare” and “Thanksgiving Dream”, each with a linking theme of Thanksgiving (obviously!) but otherwise unrelated, with wraparound segments produced by Ahlbum himself. Little disclaimer: there aren’t going to be a ton of screen caps and images from the special in this blog post, because I couldn’t find that many; I could only find a total of 8 images from this special, and most of them were of the wraparounds, which I won’t be going into great detail over, since they were just short blackout gags and I just don’t feel like it. That said, let’s dig in.
First, we get some shtick…
…And then it’s on with the first short.
The special’s first offering is a slapstick-y short which owes at least some inspiration to Tom & Jerry. A noticeably rotund family of four (Mom, Dad and teen/tween-aged Daughter and Son) are happily grubbing back on their Thanksgiving dinner, when the scent of the food attracts 2 unwanted guests: a cockroach who dresses like a thug (backwards baseball cap, wife-beater and high-top sneakers) and a mouse who bears more than a passing resemblance to the early Mickey.
Chubby daughter Sissy drops a single bone from the table where it lands on the floor. Big Daddy Harold suggests that the Family Fat take a constitutional to work off the excess baggage (the kids whine about this idea at first, but agree to it after Dad promises to take them to Dairy King afterwards.)
The 2 crispy critters proceed to duke it out over the bone, only to have their tussle halted by the family’s unnamed cat, who scares them off, causing the bone to land in Kitty’s mouth just as Mega-Mom Martha comes back for something. Of course, she assumes that the cat is the guilty party and that he was waiting for the family to get their wobbly thighs outta there so he could pick at their dinner. Large Marge threatens the “no-good flea factory” that if so much as a pea is missing when she returns, the cat will be “an outside alley cat forever!” That’s a pretty bold prediction, lady. A lot could happen after that: the cat could be adopted by another household, or he could be abducted by aliens…
Anyway, the family splits and the cat plants himself in front of the TV.
Meanwhile, each respective household pest heads to their sections of the crawl spaces and rallies their fellow vermin (seriously, do these people not realize how infested their house is??) and each deliver Braveheart style speeches about how now that the “pink giants” are gone, now is their time to crush their enemies and get their respective grub on.
In short order, an all-out turf war ensues at the dinner table. The cat struggles to get rid of these creeps and restore order (not to mention keep a roof over his head), finally dispatching them all with a vacuum cleaner, scooping nearly all of them up. Just then, the Blobbersons return (one mouse who was keeping lookout, informs his fellows that “Them big pink things is back!”). The street cockroach and the Mickey lookalike, who have been hiding out and dodging the cat this whole time, spring their fellow vermin, by cutting the vacuum cleaner bag and they all cheese it. (This shows a lack of forethought on the cat’s part: he could just eaten the little creeps and it would have over right away.) Anyone who’s seen a Tom & Jerry cartoon in their lives can guess what happens next: plump mom Martha sees the mess and missing food, assumes the cat is responsible and promptly tosses him out on his ear, punctuated by wacky sound effects. Undaunted, the cat brushes himself off, dines on a turkey leg he managed to steal and moves on. Iris out.
Okay, I gotta say it: while I didn’t mind this short overall, the ending kind of bugged me. Granted, it was clear that the family and the cat didn’t have a glowing relationship to start with (the cat blows a raspberry at Martha the mom as soon as she leaves) but it still mildly irks me that he was trying to do the right thing (insert your own Spike Lee reference here) and still ended up with the fuzzy end of the lollipop. It’s just another example of the general mistreatment of cartoon cats that I’ve never been a fan of. Sure, some cats are sadistic, detestable jerks…
But many of them aren’t. I’d go on, but I don’t wish to be labeled a CJW (Cartoon Justice Warrior). In summation, the main thing I took from this segment is…
Then, we get some more shtick…
…And then it’s on to the next short.
Whereas the first segment “Thanksgiving Nightmare” was played strictly for laughs, this second short is more on the cute and whimsical side, with a dose of tugging at the heartstrings.
Set during the Great Depression, a pair of prepubescent young siblings (blond, freckle-faced Sam and his brown-haired pig-tailed sister Emily) are feeling the crunch of the times.
Their mother (Sam and Emily’s father? They never say where he is, or even who he is) is unemployed and the family has to ration what little food they have, to the point where not only do they all have barely enough for dinner that night, but all they have is a single can of beans for tomorrow’s dinner, which happens to be Thanksgiving day. Wow, is this an animated special of an episode of Queen for a Day?
Emily and Sam go to bed. In their dream (they share dreams? So they have a hive mind? Are they psychic?), they find themselves pixie-sized and in a bizarro surreal version of their kitchen, where food products, ingredients, containers, spices and plates are suddenly anthropomorphic and serve and set themselves into a magnificent feast. It’s like Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, sans the nudity.
Sam uses too much yeast while he and his sister help prepare the food, and accidentally creates a giant yeast monster who looks like a monstrous version of one of those flapping, flailing inflatable tube men you see in front of used car lots.
The…whatever it is…threatens to destroy everything…somehow, but Emily and Sam save the day by filling its’ nostrils full of pepper and causing it to to deflate itself like a balloon.
The ensuing gusts of wind blow Emily and Sam away, and they wake up to find it was all just a dream…OR WAS IT?? The 2 kids’ noses are greeted by a wonderful smell, and head down to the kitchen to find their mom there smiling at the most impressive Thanksgiving spread they’ve ever seen. They dig in. Mom says that she doesn’t know where all this food came from, but it’s a true miracle, even it there’s a little too much pepper, after which she sneezes, but doesn’t stop eating. A carrot on Sam’s plate sprouts a face and winks at him (why it’s so happy it’s about be devoured I have no idea) and the kids share a laugh. Joy-Joy.
Nickelodeon’s Thanksgiving Fest wasn’t an A-list special, and if it aired today, it still wouldn’t be an A-list special, but it was a historically significant one. It was one of the earlier attempts by Nick to have original animated fare made specifically for their channel, a forbear to the original 3 Nicktoons, which would raise the bar and change the face of the channel forever.