Nestled between the horror-appealing, candy-stuffing holiday of Halloween and the colorful, joyous day of Christmas, where no shortage of quality entertainment resides for viewers to immerse themselves in the spirit of those respective seasons, lies Thanksgiving. Although cherished for its televised parades and family gatherings where disagreements, good times and an avalanche of tasty food serves as the prelude to chaotic holiday shopping, Thanksgiving has been less commonly known for its output of associated entertainment that begs to be watched before and after stuffing your face with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. In an effort to counterbalance this dilemma, here are several courses to cut into, some obvious and some less so, to make your Thanksgiving in front of the TV a little more special.
Ratatouille (2007): In what has become a personal November viewing tradition, Pixar’s computer-generated masterpiece set amongst the world of fine French cuisine and a rat with a passion to cook seems an unusual choice for the traditionally American holiday of Thanksgiving; yet, its rodent protagonist Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt, Young Adult) whose rebellious desire for cooking and appreciation for the humans of the world not only conflicts with his father’s hardened views but, oddly speaks to the outsiders of the family Thanksgiving dinner table who assuredly will be hassled by co-diners for their conflicting views. Through harsh disagreements and eventual understanding, family bonds win out between Remy and his father which one can only hope does the same for viewers especially during Turkey Day. In addition, while its rather obvious theme of food plays heavily into the minds and bellies of viewers watching on such a cooking-focused holiday, Ratatouille’s rich color palette, memorable characters and hearty humor all make it an unexpected delight to devour this holiday season. Bon Appétit!
Home for the Holidays (1995): Grossly underplayed during its associated holiday, director Jodie Foster’s (Little Man Tate, Money Monster) sophomore effort is a funny and relatable examination of the stress and dysfunction bred from coming together for Thanksgiving. Headlined by Holly Hunter (The Incredibles) as recently fired single mother Claudia Larson who heads back to her childhood home in Baltimore for the holidays while, her soon-to-be devirginized daughter remains in the Windy City. Comprised of an excellent ensemble cast including, Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), who reportedly was using heroin during production but excels nonetheless, as gay brother Tommy, Anne Bancroft (The Graduate) as their lovable but relentlessly pain-in-the-ass mother, Geraldine Chaplin (Doctor Zhivago) as nutty Aunt Glady, Dylan McDermott (Miracle on 34th Street) as Tommy’s pal and Charles Durning (Dick Tracy) in a compellingly understated role as the father; Home for the Holidays blends family dramedy and a touch of romance to the festivities that asks the routinely thought-about but, rarely spoken question of why we gather anyways. 20 years removed from its critically appreciated but lackluster box-office performance, Home for the Holidays has aged remarkably well, showing no signs of rust on its place at the dinner table. Cooked especially for this time of the year, more eyes should find their way upon Foster’s family gathering filled with laughs, arguments and mashed potatoes.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973) / This is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyagers (1988): Simply put, no holiday could possibly be complete without the charming whimsy of Charles Schulz and his Peanuts gang. Produced several years after their pitch perfect Christmas and Halloween specials and unique for not being specifically based on any existing comic strip material, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving literally kicks off with Lucy once again conning good ol’ Charlie Brown into punting a football on the grounds of it being a Thanksgiving tradition only to remove the pigskin and see Chuck nearly kill himself. Arguably containing more refined nuances than its predecessors, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving finds Peppermint Patty inviting herself over to that sly dog Chuck’s place for dinner before word of mouth blossoms and the whole gang finds themselves on the guest list. Utterly overwhelmed with this latest pickle, Charlie Brown, with the assistance of Linus, Snoopy and Woodstock, prep a meal fit for children including, toast, popcorn and jellybeans, igniting a fuse of anger with Peppermint Patty and discouraging our bald protagonist. Through understanding and the generosity of CB’s grandmother, the gang all have very much to be thankful for this season. Effortlessly relating to viewers’ own personal disappointments and inspiring perseverance above all, the Emmy Award-winning A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving remains one, if not, the finest prime-time example of Turkey Day excellence.
Routinely aired back-to-back with the former the last decade, The Mayflower Voyagers originally debuted as the first installment in the eight-part This is America, Charlie Brown miniseries. Far more educationally-minded than their traditional holiday specials, The Mayflower Voyagers may not pack one of the more memorable vocal casts for Schulz’s characters; yet, serves as a warm reminder to generations, young and old, of the hardships and sacrifices made by the passengers upon the 1620 Mayflower voyage and their treaty of friendship with the Natives in the New World. While it may not generate the same nostalgic attachment, a little education, especially under the guise of Charlie Brown and friends, with your mashed potatoes can go a long way too.
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944): Based on the autobiographical stories of Sally Benson, this year in the life tale of the middle class Smith family defines the wholesomeness of Americana and the innocence of simpler times. Trotting through the seasons while anticipating the 1904 World’s Fair, the Smith’s picturesque life is shaken when father Alonzo (Leon Ames, Mister Ed) announces plans to move to New York City in the new year, particularly devastating eldest daughters Rose (Lucille Bremer, Behind Locked Doors) and Ester (Judy Garland, The Wizard of Oz) just as romance is beginning to bloom for both. Initially resistant to except another juvenile role, then 21-year-old Garland simply glows as the midwest sweetheart in the first film she ever admittedly felt beautiful in. Lusciously filmed in Technicolor (a first for director Vincente Minnelli), Meet Me in St. Louis may bypass any Thanksgiving-timed moments in exchange for other memorable sequences set on Halloween and Christmas (where Garland sings the original and definitive rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”); this timeless helping of family values can be compared to a series of Norman Rockwell paintings come to life making it a prized main course to be feasted upon with loved ones near.
Injecting its musical numbers organically into its plot as opposed to other efforts of the era, Meet Me in St. Louis was forward-thinking in this respect with an obsessive eye for detail that knew no bounds or cost, prompting Minnelli and his crew to spend an extravagant $200,000 to make the St. Louis of their dreams on the studio backlot. Deservedly awarding young Margaret O’Brien a special honorary Academy Award for her role as youngest Smith Tootie (named and based specifically on Benson), Meet Me in St. Louis warms the soul like the coziest of fireside engagements and would spearhead the golden age of MGM’s movie musicals. Just as Minnelli would fall in love with his leading lady and future wife during production, audiences will find Judy Garland’s charisma and beauty simply irresistible in this must-see picture that ranks not only as one of her finest hours but, one of cinema’s greatest joys that deserves to be shared on this most giving of all holidays.
Garfield’s Thanksgiving (1989): Originally debuting on CBS Thanksgiving week of 1989, everyone’s favorite hungry, deadpan cat rings in the holiday with plans of consuming as much food as possible. Garfield’s tradition is halted after a checkup places him on a strict diet while, owner Jon scores a dinner date with diet-demanding veterinarian, Liz. Containing playful jabs at Garfield’s weight when a digital scale compares him to the-then hefty Orson Welles, Garfield’s Thanksgiving is as comforting as Apple Pie and as fun as animated specials come. Also notable for being the final special for Composers Ed Bogas and Desirée Goyette, Garfield’s Thanksgiving is a favored side dish to compliment a full belly.
You’ve Got Mail (1998): The third charming collaboration between costars Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump) and Meg Ryan (When Harry Met Sally…) sets the scene for a timely fall romance in New York’s Upper West Side where the blindness of the internet causes two business rivals to fall madly in love. Re-teaming with their Sleepless in Seattle helmer Nora Ephorn, You’ve Got Mail is the modern day retelling of the Margaret Sullivan/Jimmy Stewart starrer The Shop Around the Corner (which in turn was based on a play and later reinterpreted twice as film and stage musicals) that exchanges the written letter of sweet nothings for the modern convenience of e-mail. Capturing the gorgeous sights of the changing fall season and brownstones, to the independent shops and the very beginnings of a Starbucks being found at virtually every corner, You’ve Got Mail is a viscerally pleasant tale that presents its otherwise sappy showing of love in the city in a compelling way that only the late Nora Ephorn could deliver.
While its romantic core story remains as sweet as ever, there’s no denying the film’s technologically antiquated era is very prevalent when seen today. Gone are the days of dial-up internet and anxiously awaiting the alert that you have mail; younger audiences may even lack the understanding of sending an emoji-free message on a device that doesn’t fit in your pocket or today’s convenience of simply video chatting with crystal clear clarity. Furthermore, in a truly how the times have changed moment, while Hanks’s Fox & Sons Bookstore chain is the crushing competitor to Ryan’s independently-ran children’s literature store in the film, today it would in fact be Joe Fox’s Barnes & Noble-like operation on the ropes from mega e-tailers such as Amazon. Although its usage of America Online and getting to know someone over the-then mysterious world of the internet may now be dated, it’s these sort of time capsule appearances and Hanks and Ryan’s infectious chemistry that make the film a tender, Thanksgiving-time romance well worth revisiting.
Rocko’s Modern Life (Ep. 4.13 - “Turkey Time” / “Floundering Fathers”) (1996): Although the latter installment of the Nicktoon’s unexpected series finale hardly warrants inclusion on this list, the former’s Thanksgiving-themed entry is a real highlight. Still adjusting to American customs, Rocko is excited to be celebrating his first Thanksgiving amongst friends but is hilariously horrified after learning what is to become of his doe-eyed turkey. Sparing the main course’s life only encourages other turkeys to hideout at Rocky’s pad leaving the other residents of O-Town beyond hangry. Attempting to con their way out of trouble, Rocko and Heffer host a Thanksgiving feast with a veggie bird only for things to turn south fast. Over two decades later, Rocko’s Modern Life remains one of the crowning jewels in Nickelodeon’s second phase of original cartoons with “Turkey Time”, alongside the essential “Rocko’s Modern Christmas!” and the Halloween-themed “Sugar Frosted Frights”, serving as a nostalgic trifecta of animated holiday hoots.
Rise of the Guardians (2012): Without any explicit Thanksgiving-centric imagery and while technically taking place in the days leading up to Easter, Rise of the Guardians feels wildly at home on the biggest Turkeyfest day of the year. Marking his big-screen directorial debut, Peter Ramsey, who is thankfully getting another at bat with Sony’s animated Spider-Man film due next year, brings together the beacons of childhood lore for a daring adventure to protect their believers from eternal darkness. Based on William Joyce’s book series, although set 300 years after, Rise of the Guardians spotlights the fun-having Jack Frost (Chris Pine, Star Trek) who has been destined to join fellow guardians - Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin, The Boss Baby), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman, Logan), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher, Now You See Me) and Sandman - in order to combat the Boogeyman’s (Jude Law, Sherlock Holmes) nightmarish plot to submerge the world into darkness. Co-executive produced by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) whose artistic sensibilities have always rang more Disney than DreamWorks, Rise of the Guardians contains so much heart it teeters on combustion with dazzling animation and refreshing personality spins for its iconic characters. Released Thanksgiving weekend in 2012 to average fanfare, Rise of the Guardians is by and large the single most underrated gem in DreamWorks Animation’s catalog that is largely weighed down by countless uninspired sequels and spinoffs to their larger hits such as Shrek, Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda. An imaginative and emotionally investing adventure with prominent holiday icons at the forefront, Rise of the Guardians is one of the best kept animated secrets worthy of discovery this Thanksgiving.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987): An expected but nonetheless essential Thanksgiving day inclusion, writer/director John Hughes’ road trip comedy starring Steve Martin (The Jerk) and John Candy (Uncle Buck) has rightfully earned its permanent place at Turkey Day gatherings for its ability to tickle funny bones and tug at heartstrings seamlessly. When tight-laced marketing executive Neal Page (Martin) tries to make it home to Chicago from New York in time for Thanksgiving, one misadventure after another and a chance encounter with overly optimistic salesman Del Griffith (Candy) make the long journey an endlessly entertaining one. Long revered for his teen-centric classics of the 1980s including, Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, Hughes’ uniquely stylistic approach to Planes, Trains & Automobiles, complimented by the delightful chemistry between Martin and Candy, marks an obvious graduation in both laughs and emotional connectivity. While viewers who came of age relating with Samantha Baker’s forgotten birthday dilemma or Ferris Bueller’s wild and crazy odyssey through Chicago may always find them to be superior efforts, there’s much to be said and argue that Planes, Trains & Automobiles may be Hughes’ finest moment where his talents and critical reception were perfectly aligned. With a limited but incredibly rich output that touched so many cornerstones throughout the decade, Hughes’ Planes, Trains & Automobiles has never lost its touch and only gets better with each passing Thanksgiving season.