As Hank noted in 7 Odd Snoopy Creations the World Forgot, one of the more obscure 80s series is This is America, Charlie Brown. Its premiere episode, The Mayflower Voyagers, drops Peanuts characters into a death-filled tale of how the Pilgrims traversed the deadly seas, settled at Plymouth Rock, and held the first Thanksgiving. Hold on to your stuffing, kids.
Even though this episode was written by Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz and Garfield and Friends executive producer Lee Mendelson, the Peanuts themselves are cursory to the story. Five minutes of dry, historical flavor text is narrated by good old Charlie Brown himself before the titular tots even speak. Much of the Mayflower exploits focus on the adults, with everybody’s favorite characters being reduced to a bunch of vomiting worrywarts.
Charlie Brown exclaims, “Oh, no!” and asks Linus, “Do you think we’re all going to die?” while Snoopy and Woodstock prance around to elicit a few out-of-place laughs. The bulk of the educational narrative focuses on the adult Pilgrims foraging for food, surviving the winter, and encountering the friendly Native Americans — you get the feeling someone wanted to do an animated historical Thanksgiving special and just tacked the Peanuts license onto it. There’s zero context for why the Peanuts characters are popping up in the middle of such a historic event; they’re just window dressing to attract the kiddos, and that’s a big problem.
Themes of faith and death dominate The Mayflower Voyagers in a rather blunt fashion, as adults are shown sick or dying as a result of the harsh winter, while Linus repeats a mantra that “they have to have faith” to get through the hard times. At the climactic Thanksgiving dinner, everyone gives a moment of silence “to remember those who passed on.” Although God is only mentioned once by name in the special’s 24-minute running time, the religious references are there in spades.
The year 1988 was a less politically correct time than today, and The Mayflower Voyagers is certainly a product of its time. Native Americans are always referred to as “Indians,” and speak in a slow, stilted fashion. At Thanksgiving, the adults and Native Americans take several hits off a peace pipe. Guess the meal started at 4:20.
As an animated bite-sized glimpse into early American history, The Mayflower Voyagers is good enough. As a Peanuts special, it is a failure. Every so often, the characters’ neuroses shine though, but they are saddled with repeating historical facts instead of being themselves or ironically commenting on the events at hand. You can give this episode of This is America, Charlie Brown a pass.
Article by contributor Mat-Bradley Tschirgi.