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In Defense of Thanksgiving Films

When the seasons shift, and the air fills with the scent of roasted turkey and pumpkin pie, our minds naturally gravitate towards holiday films. Halloween and Christmas movies abound, but when the topic turns to Thanksgiving films, there’s an unexpected scarcity. Why is that? Perhaps it’s the scheduling, with Christmas films hitting screens as early as mid-November. Additionally, Thanksgiving, not being as widely celebrated globally as Christmas, may contribute to the shortage of Thanksgiving-themed movies. Rather than dwelling on the limited selection of traditional Thanksgiving films, let’s reimagine what Thanksgiving movies can be. Instead of constraining them to late November feasts with gratitude-filled dinners, let’s define Thanksgiving films by their portrayal of gratitude and reflections on thankfulness.

Here are five films that embody this redefined perspective on Thanksgiving movies:

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

A Japanese girl gracefully stands beneath a canopy of cherry blossoms, dressed in a vibrant red cherry kimono. The spring breeze gently scatters a shower of delicate blossom petals around her.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. 2014. IMDb. 17 November 2023.

“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” unfolds the captivating narrative of its eponymous character discovered in a bamboo shoot by a bamboo cutter. Thought to be a divine presence, she is brought home to the bamboo cutter’s wife. Despite her rapid growth into a young lady, dazzling all who encounter her, she is eventually confronted with her own fate.

Co-written and directed by Isao Takahata, the film, a masterpiece akin to “Grave of the Fireflies,” is a testament to precision, care, and elegance. The animation, characterized by a unique color palette, sketch-like animation, and a minimalist approach, creates a lasting impression. The impeccable voice performances, along with Joe Hisaishi’s evocative score, enhance the overall narrative.

The film transcends the dichotomy of nature versus society, delving into themes of coming of age. “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” serves as an inspiration for gratitude, exploring life’s journey, the beauty of nature, the significance of love and friendship, and fostering an appreciation for our origins.


An urban landscape with towering skyscrapers is depicted, dominated by a unique and surreal scene. A spiral staircase descends from the sky, its steps resembling piano keys with every third step ending in a black side. On this staircase, a man of color descends, accompanied by a cat. In the background, the title "Soul" is prominent, creatively incorporating the "O" as the moon. Perched on the "L" of the word Soul are two whimsical aliens from other worlds, adding a touch of humor and fantasy to the vibrant image.
Soul (2020) IMDb. 17 November 2023.

Joe Gardner, a middle school teacher passionate about jazz music, finds himself in an unexpected predicament after a successful audition at the Half Note Club. Following an accident that separates his soul from his body, he ends up in the You Seminar, a center where souls develop and acquire passions before entering newborn children. To navigate this peculiar realm and return to Earth, Joe seeks assistance from other souls-in-training, including 22, who has spent eons in the You Seminar.

As Joe strives to get back to the Half Note Club, he grapples with the feeling that his current situation is not where he truly belongs. Throughout the film, Joe undergoes profound reflections on his life, gaining a newfound appreciation for the beauty of everyday moments. This journey encourages viewers to reflect on and be grateful for their own lives and the often-overlooked joys that enrich them.

The Red Turtle

In this serene scene, a man stands gracefully on a sleek black boat, his upper body exposed above the belt. With a bamboo cane in hand, he peacefully observes the surroundings. Beneath the clear, transparent water, a majestic red turtle emerges, showcasing its neck, head, and a portion of its tortoise shell. The vibrant underwater tableau captures the tranquil moment as both man and turtle coexist in the calm ocean.
The Red Turtle. 2016. IMDb. 17 November 2023.

“The Red Turtle” is a quiet and contemplative exploration of loneliness and the spiritual connection between humanity and the primitive world. Co-produced by Studio Ghibli, the film combines the Japanese studio’s creative excellence with the European arthouse sensibilities of Michael Dudok de Wit. In this minimalist cinematic piece devoid of dialogue, Dudok de Wit weaves a simple yet emotionally powerful story with a touch of fantasy.

The film invites viewers to delve into its rich symbolism and inspiring imagery, emphasizing that it should not be taken at face value. Despite its slow pacing, “The Red Turtle” demands attention to every frame, offering a unique cinematic experience. The narrative unfolds without centering around a specific topic; instead, it explores a myriad of themes, including life, death, love, hate, adolescence, curiosity, and the intricate interdependence between the human race and nature. The film delicately handles these profound subjects, creating a dense yet atmospheric narrative, all under the backdrop of beautifully immersive animation with a concise runtime of only an hour and 20 minutes.

Everything Everywhere All At Once

In this intricate image, a multitude of people forms specific shapes with their hands, evoking a sense of fantastical power. Interspersed throughout are animals and plants, enhancing the magical ambiance, reminiscent of those who believe in the enchanting capabilities of their hands. The diverse forms and magical elements create a captivating and otherworldly scene.
Everything Everywhere All At Once. 2022. IMDb. 17 November 2023.

An aging Chinese immigrant is swept up in an insane adventure where she alone can save what’s important to her by connecting with the lives she could have led in other universes.

Everything Everywhere All at Once manages to strike a delicate balance between humor and profound emotional depth. It consistently delivers moments of laughter while also delving into existential questions and the meaning of our choices. The film’s appeal lies not only in its exploration of the multiverse concept and silly antics but in its deeper examination of existential despair and purpose. It prompts viewers to reflect on the complexities of life, the significance of our choices, and how to find purpose in a world where everything is interconnected.

In each act, the main character grapples with profound questions, fostering a deeper appreciation and gratitude for life’s complexities and the human experience. The film encourages viewers to cherish and be thankful for the diversity and richness of their own experiences.

Life of Pi

In this heartwarming image, a young boy sits atop bright orange flotation tubes commonly used for life-saving on ships. Before him, a rescue boat carries a feline companion, both embodying a sense of safety and companionship. The vivid colors, the addition of two oars, and a visible drink can enhance the scene, evoking a feeling of security and shared adventure.
Life of Pi. 2012. New York Times. 17 November 2023.

“Life of Pi” takes audiences on an enthralling journey of adventure, hope, and the triumph of the will to survive against all odds. Piscine Patel, or Pi, finds himself stranded on a lifeboat after a shipwreck, accompanied by a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and a fearsome Bengal tiger, Richard Parker, with whom he forges an unlikely bond.

Director Ang Lee’s mastery in capturing the wonders of nature is evident in the film’s intimate portrayal. With “Life of Pi,” Lee elevates the cinematography to a higher level of cinematic artistry, showcasing his aesthetic use of 3D technology. The spellbinding cinematography, touching music, and solid cast performances contribute to the film’s rewarding visual and emotional experience.

During his 227 days at sea, Pi refuses to let the waves take him. He learns to survive with limited resources and transforms Richard Parker from a threat into a companion. The constant fear of being eaten by Richard keeps Pi vigilant, and attending to Richard’s needs provides him with purpose. In the toughest moments, the bond between Pi and Richard gives him the strength to move forward, ultimately finding his way back to the world.

In conclusion, the essence of Thanksgiving films should not be confined to the traditional narrative of a late November setting or a dinner scene where characters express their gratitude. Instead, we can broaden our perspective and redefine Thanksgiving films as those that embody the spirit of gratitude and retrospection, regardless of their setting or plot. This new definition not only expands the repertoire of films we can associate with Thanksgiving but also allows us to appreciate the universal values of thankfulness and reflection that this holiday represents. So, this Thanksgiving, let’s celebrate with a movie that makes us feel grateful, regardless of whether it’s set around a Thanksgiving table or not. After all, the true spirit of Thanksgiving lies in our hearts, not in the date on the calendar.

Richard Wu is a senior studying piano performance at the Jacobs School of Music. This is his fifth semester at Media Services.

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