A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Beat Sheet
After the success of Charlie Brown holiday favorites A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965 and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown in 1966, it was time to tackle that holiday in the middle of the two. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving aired on November 20, 1973. Winning an Emmy® the following year, it was an immediate hit, airing first on CBS and later ABC every November until 2020, when it switched over to Apple+.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving aligns with the Save the Cat!® Genre Rites of Passage, as detailed in the book Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies. This is when a troubled hero’s only way to overcome a spiraling life crisis is to defeat his worst enemy: himself. It consists of three elements—Life Problem, Wrong Way, and Acceptance—which this 25-minute TV dramedy illustrates beautifully.
Now, let’s dive in and be thankful!
Genre: Rites of Passage (adolescent)
Written by: Charles M. Schulz
Directed by: Bill Melendez and Phil Roman
Cousins: A Charlie Brown Christmas; It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; Napoleon Dynamite; Sixteen Candles; American Graffiti; Risky Business; Breaking Away; Lucas; American Pie; Dazed and Confused; Porky’s; Thirteen
Opening Image: Lucy Van Pelt (Robin Kohn) plays with a football in a bleak November landscape and slyly calls for Charlie Brown (Todd Barbee). She says she’ll hold the ball so he can kick it. “I can’t believe it,” he says. “She must think I’m the most stupid person alive.”
Set-Up: Charlie Brown is angered that Lucy would try another trick—all she’s going to do is pull the football away before he can kick it. She pep talks him into it, telling him it’s a Thanksgiving tradition to kick off a football. Of course, she pulls the ball away, and he lands flat on his back. “Isn’t it peculiar,” Charlie Brown, “how some traditions just slowly fade away?”
Later, Charlie Brown is depressed. He commiserates with his sister, Sally Brown (Hilary Momberger), and friend Linus Van Pelt (Stephen Shea). Holidays make more work at school, like writing reports on Miles Standish, and more to worry about. This is the Life Problem of the STC! Rites of Passage genre, the first of three elements.
Theme Stated: Linus says that “Thanksgiving is a very important holiday. Ours was the first country in the world to make a national holiday to give thanks.”
Catalyst: Peppermint Patty (Christopher DeFaria) calls Charlie Brown while he’s relaxing at home. She invites herself and her friends Marcy (Jimmy Ahrens) and Franklin (Robin Reed). He’s tongue-tied and cannot get a word in edgewise.
Debate: There’s a problem. Charlie Brown and Sally were supposed to go with his parents over to his grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. They won’t even be home. Logical Linus says to call her back and explain it to her. Charlie says that you can’t explain anything to her because you never get to say anything. He’s “doomed” because he will disappoint her, and she’ll hate him for the rest of his life. Linus, the precocious one of the group, comes up with a solution—have two dinners: one earlier for his friends before he must go to his grandmother’s house at 4:30. Though Charlie Brown can’t cook, Linus says he’ll help.
B Story: Linus is the one who will not only help Charlie Brown learn about thankfulness but the rest of their pals as well. He’ll teach them about “giving thanks.”
Break into Two: Linus orders Snoopy to set up tables. The dinner is on. The beagle grabs his bird friend, Woodstock, to help (each voiced by director Bill Melendez). Snoopy plays some ping-pong and fights with a combative folding chair, but eventually gets things set up in the backyard.
Fun and Games: We get a fun montage of Snoopy, Woodstock, Linus, and Charlie Brown, complete with the trademark Vince Guaraldi score, as they prepare the Thanksgiving “dinner,” which is popcorn, toast, pretzels, and jelly beans. Snoopy and Woodstock even dress in traditional pilgrim rags. This is the promise of the premise as they’re preparing Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving. Peppermint Patty, Marcie, and Franklin soon arrive and are seated at the backyard table. This is the Wrong Way of the STC! Rites of Passage genre, the second of three elements.
Midpoint: It’s a false victory as Charlie Brown has delivered a Thanksgiving dinner as promised. A and B Stories tie together as Linus tells a story about the first Thanksgiving dinner in 1621 at Plymouth. He gives a prayer of thankfulness.
Bad Guys Close In: Snoopy serves up plates chocked full of popcorn, buttered toast, pretzel sticks, and jelly beans. While Charlie Brown happily munches down, Peppermint Patty scowls—she’s less than impressed. “What blockhead cooked this?” she demands. Snoopy hides his face in shame. “Where’s the turkey, Chuck? Don’t you know anything about Thanksgiving dinners? Where’s the mashed potatoes, where’s the cranberry sauce, where’s the pumpkin pie?”
All Is Lost: Charlie Brown sulks and walks away from the table. His worst fear is realized—Peppermint Patty will hate him for the rest of his life. It’s a whiff of death moment where he’s the lowest he’s been since the beginning of the story.
Dark Night of the Soul: Marcie, Peppermint Patty’s wise friend and seemingly the only person she’ll actually listen to, chimes in. She asks if Charlie Brown invited her here or did she invite herself. Peppermint Patty has a realization—she’s too “brusque and rough” to apologize appropriately to Charlie Brown, so she has Marcie do it. Linus says this is not unlike a historical Thanksgiving incident between John Alden, Pricilla Mullis, and Captain Miles Standish. The brusque Peppermint Patty disagrees.
Break into Three: Marcie explains to Charlie Brown that Peppermint Patty is sorry. Charlie Brown says he’s sad that he’s ruined everyone’s Thanksgiving. Marcie ties A and B stories together, explaining it’s not about the food, it’s what Linus said at the Midpoint: it’s about being together and giving thanks—that’s what Thanksgiving means.
Finale: Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty make up. Uh-oh, it’s already 4 PM, he’s going to be late to his grandmother’s house. He calls to explain his dilemma. His grandmother invites them all to come over—Thanksgiving Dinner is saved. This is the Acceptance of the STC! Rites of Passage genre, the third and final element. They load up in the back of a green station wagon and sing, “Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go…” Of course, Charlie Brown, always the downer, says that the problem with that song is his mother lives in a condominium.
Final Image: Snoopy and Woodstock go to the beagle’s trademark doghouse. There’s clattering and the whirring of electric tools. Snoopy has built a table, some chairs, and cooked a Thanksgiving turkey with all of the trimmings (apparently Charlie Brown’s faithful pet was holding out on him and his friends). He and Woodstock enjoy their turkey (apparently Woodstock is kosher with eating other birds), and they share slices of pumpkin pie against a brilliant, rosy sunset.
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