Back in 2012, 30 Rock made the case that Hollywood will drum up an ensemble film about any holiday. In one episode, a lovelorn Emma Stone declares in a trailer for the fake romantic comedy Martin Luther King Day, “In the words of Martin Luther King, I just gotta go for it.” The show was parodying a crop of movies from the late director Garry Marshall that attempted to imbue smaller American holidays with unearned sentimentality: New Year’s Eve in 2010 and Valentine’s Day in 2011 (this year brought … Mother’s Day). The excesses of the holiday-movie industrial complex are especially apparent when you consider how few classic films have been made about Thanksgiving. In fact, there isn’t much of a Thanksgiving pop-culture canon at all.
Think about it: What are the widely adored Thanksgiving equivalents of Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, “Jingle Bells,” How the Grinch Stole Christmas, or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? Even Halloween has a bigger pop-culture footprint, with Hocus Pocus, “The Monster Mash,” Halloween, The Craft, and Halloweentown. (The Nightmare Before Christmas neatly bridges the two.) And yet Thanksgiving’s primary offerings include Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Pieces of April, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and Arlo Guthrie’s folk song “Alice’s Restaurant”—all classics in their own right, but still a bizarrely light roster for America’s second-favorite holiday. Like Christmas, Thanksgiving is a day of indulgence, of relaxation, of communal comforts, of cold-weather cheer. So why the disparity?