When I was a tiny, little starry-eyed sprocket, Thanksgiving was practically another holiday entirely. Mom and I got up before dawn and started working on a meal big enough to feed my entire family and everyone they decided to bring along with them. There was no such thing as an RSVP in our house, basically, the definition of who was family just extended to a point where friends of friends ended up joining us to eat.
It was probably a function of where I grew up, but your options on Thanksgiving day for entertainment were pretty much staying home and ignoring football and learning how to play gin rummy at the not so tender mercies of the dining room table. We’d eat and eat and eat some more, until everyone was ready to explode. There wasn’t a war-room strategy session to get ready for shopping because Black Friday honestly didn’t exist in our area.
This isn’t to say that Christmas wasn’t a big deal, it was just that Christmas had its time and place and that time and place was after Thanksgiving. Our house didn’t even have cable, so, most of the time, the TV just stayed off as soon as the Thanksgiving Day Parade was done and didn’t come back on until it was time to watch either the Snoopy or the Garfield Thanksgiving specials. Home video has changed how dependent you are on network schedules to see just about any holiday programming, but people must still be watching them, because they keep airing them. And, admittedly, if I know that Snoopy’s going to be on TV, I usually tune in, because it’s just not the same being able to watch it on DVD.
When we got a VCR at our house, that didn’t necessarily translate to being able to watch a movie on Thanksgiving, either. The big TV was being run by the guys and they were watching sports. Occasionally, though, one of the two channels I could get on the little TV in my room would take pity on us kids and run a movie in the afternoon. I can’t count how many times my cousins and I ended up piled on my bed and on my floor staring raptly at another viewing of the movie “Lucas” just because it meant we weren’t sitting around a table staring at pumpkin pie and the decimated carcass of the turkey.
Now, if Thanksgiving registers as a holiday at all, it’s because of Black Friday coming afterwards and big movie openings, meant to get people out of the house and spending money instead of staying home with their loved ones. Kids get some time off school, but, honestly, I have to question what good that really does if their parents have to turn right around after a Thanksgiving feast to rush off to work. It seems like the height of both entitlement and rudeness to me. People who work in retail are no less deserving of a holiday than I am, and they most certainly shouldn’t have to deal with enormous crowds of rabid shoppers trying to shred each other over a cheap sweatshirt. This is what our culture has devolved to, though, hoards of inconsiderate, brutal consumers mired in our own selfish drives to spend money instead of celebrating time with our families.
I didn’t eat a turkey dinner with all the trimmings this year. My parents came to visit and we stayed in. I made turkey enchiladas and we sat down together to honor one of our favorite time-honored traditions, easing out of the food coma in front of the TV. Now, I should qualify this with an important statement. This has been a tradition for my family since I was a teenager.
Movies that are about Thanksgiving aren’t as easy to find as, say, your average Christmas movie. To me, it feels like a woefully untapped market, but I imagine that by this point, Hollywood just assumes that American audiences are going to be rampaging through stores like manic hellbeasts and there’s not much point in doing anything that might detract from that.
Every year since it was first released on VHS, we’ve sat down to have a family viewing of “Son in Law”. Yes, that’s right. Pauly Shore has become an integral part of my holiday season and has been since roughly 1994. It doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving until I’ve watched “Son In Law”.
The really funny thing is, that I’ve mentioned to friends that I do this and I can see this little light coming into their eyes as they remember that, yes, “Son In Law” is all about Thanksgiving. It starts out like a fairly typical college movie. A small town farm girl goes out to California for college and, at first, she has a hard time fitting in. A friend takes her under his wing and helps her learn how to be herself and embrace her new surroundings. When she finds out that he’s going to be alone for Thanksgiving, she takes him back to her small town. Hilarity ensues. Or at least, a comedy of misunderstandings and epic fish out of water moments that make a person completely reevaluate their opinions of John Denver songs and combines.
“Son in Law” isn’t exactly completely family friendly. It’s about college, after all, and there are off-color jokes, some suggestive situations, and one particularly memorable but blessedly brief moment of nudity that’s more about laughs than anything else. And, honestly, it’s nothing beyond what I’ve seen on an average night of prime time television these days.
Sure, “Son in Law” is silly and kind of cheesy, but it’s funny. It’s a movie that I can watch with my mom and dad and we can laugh together at pretty much all of the same stuff. It’s also a movie that my cousins could agree to watch, too. We all probably liked it for entirely different reasons, but it did at least get us all in a room together and coexisting in a relatively peaceful manner.
Finding something that younger and older kids can enjoy together is a little bit more complicated. It’s a tough compromise to make finding something that’s both age appropriate and still entertaining.
Of course, there’s that classic standby, “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving”, which I’ve been watching every year for my entire life and still have yet to get bored watching. I still think having jellybeans and popcorn for Thanksgiving sounds like a great idea and if it takes a ping-pong table in order to have enough room to set up for your friends, then that’s not necessarily a terrible thing. You may be able to recite every line from the show, but that can be part of the fun.
You could also break out “Garfield’s Thanksgiving”, provided you’ve got some kids around who still think Garfield is funny. Believe it or not, this may actually be harder to do than you might think. This is actually something I find pretty sad, since Garfield was the first comic strip that I actively read. It really did used to be good, now, unfortunately, Garfield seems to be more meaningful or at least more interesting if Garfield is removed from the strip entirely.
Still, if you’ve got willing eyeballs to watch it, “Garfield’s Thanksgiving” is worth dusting off so that the younger kids know what you’re talking about. Jon Arbuckle manages to trick Liz the Vet into a date with him, which happens to fall on Thanksgiving. Jon, being Jon, manages to ruin a Thanksgiving meal so thoroughly that the only hope for recovery is a deus ex machina in the form of Jon’s Grandma. It’s a neat, happily ever after solution (mostly) for everyone involved.
Hopefully, though, your options will be a bit wider next year. I can’t imagine that the movie “Free Birds” wouldn’t be on DVD in time for Thanksgiving in 2014. If it isn’t, then someone messed up a pretty much golden opportunity.
“Free Birds” has the vocal talents of Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Colm Meaney, George Takei, and Amy Poehler. It’s also one of those movies that, much like “Son in Law” is silly but still inexplicably entertaining. Than again, maybe not all that inexplicably.
Owen Wilson is the voice of Reggie the turkey. Reggie is a smart little bird. The problem is that he’s completely surrounded by idiots. Domestic turkeys are not raised for intelligence and Reggie sees the evidence of that every day of his life. He tries desperately to convince the other turkeys in the barnyard that they’re doomed, but no one seems to pay him any attention. Instead, they make fun of him and go on about their lives, busily eating as much corn as they possibly can.
Reggie is spared the typical fate of your average turkey when he becomes the Presidentially pardoned turkey for the year. He immediately settles more than happily into his new cushy life until another turkey, Jake, who’s voiced by Woody Harrelson, kidnaps Reggie in order to get him to travel back in time with him and get turkeys removed from being part of the traditional Thanksgiving feast.
I can promise you that this movie will not win any prizes for historical accuracy. It won’t teach the audience much of anything about why we have Thanksgiving as a holiday or why we eat what we do during the celebration. It never aimed to be that kind of movie anyway. What it does have is some fairly typical social commentary that gets thrown into just about every kids’ movie these days about the evils of greed for greed’s sake, being true to your friends, and believing in yoursellf.
It’s also got a fair amount of jokes in it that work on several levels. There’s some spoofing of more than a few martial arts and escape movies. There’s a whole lot of poking fun at typical action romps. There’s slapstick and a little bit of not too worrisome innuendo, and, most importantly, George Takei voicing the sassiest AI to ever sass a bumbling, indecisive operator. It’s worth watching the movie just to hear that.
The potential drawback here, of course, is that the turkeys in “Free Birds” are really cute. They’re adorable. They also look practically nothing like actual turkeys in the real world. Kids may feel very protective of turkeys after watching the movie, so you may want to de-emphasize the connection between the Thanksgiving meal and Reggie and Jake if you need to.
Thanksgiving is a time that usually means family and togetherness. If you decide to stay at home, rather than viciously elbow your way to merchandise that’s probably not available, you’re going to need an entertainment game plan in place. There are options, both for the younger and slightly older sets. Whatever you choose, have fun and enjoy each other’s company.