Woodstock Eating Turkey in ‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’ Was A Huge Controversy When It First Aired — And It Still Is

Peanuts cartoons from the last 54 years aren’t usually known for containing much that’s controversial. That is unless you go by A Charlie Brown Christmas due to Linus’s religious recitation at the end.

All other Peanuts holiday specials are fairly benign in comparison. But the Thanksgiving special is now in the pantheon of oddball controversy as well.

Those of you who’ve watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving over the last 46 years probably realized one strange thing that occurs in the final scene. Woodstock, a bird, is seen eating roasted turkey prepared by Snoopy and Woodstock themselves. For some reason, not everyone noticed this years ago and suddenly took to Twitter to note the seemingly cannibalistic practice from Woodstock.

What are the details behind this ending, and why was it suddenly restored after years of being cut out of network broadcasts?

Producer Lee Mendelson didn’t like the idea of Woodstock eating his own kind

'A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving'
‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’ | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

Technically, one could say Woodstock isn’t really eating someone like him since he isn’t a turkey. Not that it didn’t disturb some from the get-go about Woodstock eating a fellow species of bird.

Lee Mendelson was the co-producer of all Peanuts specials and was a close friend of Charles Schulz for decades. The two reportedly got into an argument about that final scene, with Mendelson saying he found it disturbing to see Woodstock essentially practicing cannibalism.

Schulz disagreed. Since he had final say on all the Peanuts specials, the scene stayed in. That more or less proves he had a darker sense of humor than what people might remember. In reality, he really did have some fun with darker themes now and again, especially when we remember how much deep-end psychology he explored.

There was a saving grace for Mendelson, however. In later years, the Thanksgiving special was chopped down to 22 minutes to fit more commercial time in. Those years saw the final scene of Woodstock eating turkey taken out until the specials moved to ABC and the latter network restored the show to its full glory.

Everyone went wild on Twitter last year when the scene appeared again

Apparently there was a whole generation that didn’t see Woodstock eating a fellow bird, up until recently. Many sites reported on this last year when Twitter lit up with hilarious comments about Woodstock’s cannibalistic tendency.

Others did remember the scene and piped in to note how weird it was to this day. A few called it “casual cannibalism,” which really does give you a chill when placed in the proper perspective.

Of course, with cannibalism seen on network TV sometimes — particularly The Walking Dead and other shows — some viewers might find it oddly mainstream in some corners of media. Seeing it in a Peanuts special is not what anyone had in mind, unless intended as a parody.

Let’s not disparage Schulz’s original decision since it is still funny and really harmless in the bigger picture.

It’s not the only dark gag in a holiday special

Maybe Schulz took inspiration from another holiday classic: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. At one time, all Peanuts specials and Rudolph were on the same network together (CBS), up until ABC bought the rights to Peanuts in 2000.

One scene at the end of Rudolph has never been edited: The finale where elves give the misfit toys little umbrellas to fly out of Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve. In one shot, an elf throws the bird who could only swim out of the sleigh without an umbrella, hence presumably landing to his death.

No doubt that was put in intentionally as a bit of a morbid gag, even if one can surmise the bird landed in a family’s chimney, or simply learned to fly at the moment. Nevertheless, throwing in little gags like that might have been seconded by Schulz for his Thanksgiving special as a continual inside joke.