"The Thanksgiving that Almost Wasn't" (1971)

I do invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States…to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
--Abraham Lincoln

I bet you didn't know that if it hadn't been for your great-great-great-grandfather Jeremy Squirrel, there never would have been a Thanksgiving.
--the present-day father squirrel in today's special

In 1620, a group of English settlers traveled across the Atlantic on the Mayflower and set foot on Plymouth Rock in Virginia to make new lives for themselves in the New World. After struggling through a cold winter of hardship, they met a tribe of natives who shared their food with them and also taught them how to hunt, catch fish and grow their own vegetables, and that fall the natives and settlers got together and had a big feast to celebrate the first successful harvest.

And thus was the first Thanksgiving.

Or so the history books tell you.

If you go by the 1971 Hanna-Barbera special The Thanksgiving that Almost Wasn't, you may find the history books neglected to mention the talking squirrel.

That's right. If it wasn't for a talking squirrel, we all would not be taking every fourth Thursday of November off to get together as a family and be reminded that there's only one more month until Christmas.

And they're worried about teaching evolution.

Dinner now, then the football game, and then it's off to bed for the early Black Friday sale.

It all began while everybody is getting ready for the big feast, cooking, singing, dancing reusing animation and Thurl Ravenscroft vocalizing.

The talking squirrel in question is named Jeremy, and that autumn afternoon while getting ready for a feast of his own, he finds two children playing in the forest near the village - a pilgrim boy named Johnny Cook and an Indian child named Little Bear - arguing over who is the better turkey hunter, and breaks up their argument to suggest that the two become friends.

"You two shouldn't be fighting! You two should be friends and get along and--"

After more reused animation of cooking and dancing and whatnot set to the same song, Jeremy notices Johnny and Little Bear chasing small animals in the woods. Incidentally, I think Little Bear would be the better hunter of the two of them--he actually carries a bow and arrow, while Johnny is holding a stick that's made to looks like a rifle. You get them in front of a bear or a wolf and we'll see how Johnny likes to hunt with his little toy. Inevitably, they get lost, and nobody notices they're missing until it's time to sit down and eat. Fearing for their safety, everyone leaves the food to get cold and form a search party to go after them.

Johnny and Little Bear eventually realize they're lost, but they're not fazed. No, not even a near-death experience over a waterfall can, dare I say, dampen their spirits! In fact, after a stern lecture from Jeremy, the boys sing a bright, upbeat song about going home as they march in tune in the direction of the settlement!

In a complete circle.

And now, our interpretation of white man-Indian relations for the next three hundred years.

Finally fed up with with their directional incompetence, Jeremy tells the boys to stay put, and leaving the boys in the capable hands of some other forest animals, goes off to find help. While he's gone, a wolf finds them and chases them. The animals of the forest try to fight it off while of the birds goes after Jeremy, who has just found the search party and was telling them that the boys were safe.


He's been speaking plain English this whole time and all of a sudden he's squeaking and chittering like a squirrel when it matters the most.

I imagine the writers probably didn't have any dialogue written for this bit, or they could have just kept this scene silent, but this raises a few questions. Does Jeremy talk ONLY to children and other animals and not to fully grown adults? And how can they understand him? Why doesn't he just speak English to them, considering the situation at hand? In this cartoon parallel universe where animals and humans can freely converse with the same tongue, why does Jeremy choose to revert back to squirrel noises when alerting the search party where the boys are?

"Anybody understand what he's saying?"
"I'm still wondering why my kid keeps talking to them."

Anyway, everyone finds the boys as the wolf has them cornered, and Jeremy fights off the lupine beast and...sends him bouncing away on a log seemingly made of rubber.

So the boys are home and safe, and the story finally ends with the first Thanksgiving feast (one day late, so everything's gotten cold) and Jeremy is invited to sit at the head of the table and say grace. Jeremy talks about being thankful for the hard work that went into this feast, and that they have it to eat and share with others. Of course, all the boys sing about is how hungry they are, which kind of insinuates that their experience in the forest has taught then nothing.

And there's The Thanksgiving that Almost Wasn't, which wasn't "almost wasn't" uninteresting. The animation is up to Hanna-Barbera's usual 1970s standards, as in, minimal and reusable. The story is really nothing to write home about - boys get lost, squirrel rescues them, the end. The "first Thanksgiving" backdrop feels kind of superfluous; it feels more like a Lassie episode than a Thanksgiving special. There isn't very much to gain from watching this outside of nitpicking how the Pilgrims and Indians didn't really wear those outfits back then.

But if I've learned anything from this special, it's to be thankful for the squirrels. Especially the ones that talk. If it wasn't for that talking squirrel who saved those two boys so very long ago, we as a nation would take what we have for granted all the time, and not feel fortunate and thankful for all that we have and all that we enjoy every day, and Thanksgiving would be forgotten in the frantic shopping rush between Halloween and Christmas (or more than it already is, anyway).

So when you sit down to that big turkey dinner, remember to thank God for the squirrels who made it all possible.

And to leave an offering of nuts by the tree in your backyard, or else Jeremy's ghost will raid your bird feeder.

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