The Charlie Brown character will never, ever grow old. Charles Schulz likely had no idea when he initially created the humble, gentle boy and his critical but trustworthy sidekicks, but he was in reality crafting something that generations of people would identify with and latch onto forever.
“Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” is landing on DVD after a mere 38 years. Initially released in August 1977 and first aired in prime time on CBS in November 1979, this third in a series of films based on the iconic Peanuts comic strip borrows the same voice cast as the 1975 television special “You’re a Good Sport, Charlie Brown.” It illustrates antics you might expect from the characters who were, at the time, becoming better known by the year, and brings together a more competitive element or two with the addition of some true adversaries. While less charming than “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” is warm enough to hold a candle to those more superior.
Things begin with the entire Peanuts clan heading off to a summer camp in the mountains, Camp Remote. Charlie Brown (Duncan Watson) gets things off to a rocky start when he is left behind, thus needing to bum a ride from Snoopy and Woodstock (Bill Melendez) on Snoopy’s motorcycle. After Charlie Brown finally arrives, Lucy (Melanie Kohn), Linus (Liam Martin), Peppermint Patty (Laura Planting), Marcie (Jimmy Ahrens), Schroeder (Greg Felton), Franklin (Tom Muller) and Sally (Gail Davis) are quickly thrust into a regimented day-to-day set of activities. The camp is run by several bullies who subject the Peanuts to early mornings, crummy food and military time.
Soon, everyone learns of a race that happens each year at the camp. The bullies have won annually for some time, thanks in large part to cheating. The Peanuts separate into three groups: boys (Charlie Brown, Linus, Schroeder and Franklin), girls (Peppermint Patty, Marcie, Lucy and Sally), plus Snoopy and Woodstock. As the race begins, varying degrees of leadership are on display against the backdrop of the bullies trying to sabotage the Peanuts. The winner ends up being a character you might not expect, but it’s the antics along the way that steal the show.
While “Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” should really be about our hero growing into a leadership role, it gets easily sidetracked by various subplots. The bullies argue with one another constantly and ultimately sabotage themselves, but not before they come after the Peanuts and their rafts. Linus and his blanket are able to fend off the bullies every now and again, generating that ever so memorable affection from Sally. Peppermint Patty is as incompetent as ever, demanding that everything on her boat be decided on by secret ballot. It is all, for the most part, stuff we have seen previously, and there are moments when it feels out of place, ever so slightly.
The adventurous spirit on display all the way through “Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” is notable, and it is fun to see the Peanuts in an environment that feels a bit more foreign than their often comfortable confines. But their time spent in the great outdoors plays on some traditional stereotypes and doesn’t offer any fulfillment not previously presented in the comic strip or the television specials. The feel good moments you might have latched onto from the better known television specials aren’t here in any regard, and while this alone doesn’t make “Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” a bad special, it does set it apart. Plus, “Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” runs 77 minutes, too lengthy and noticeably longer than those before and after it.
The Peanuts characters are still on point with their wit and charm, but it often gets indirectly overshadowed by the back and forth between them and the bullies. No worries at the end of the day, as you’ll still be able to distinguish between each person. Their interactions are as pointed as we’ve come to recognize and remember, but they lack the human interest and education I saw in the other specials.
I’m not sure if “Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” will appeal to children in today’s era, but it does deserve a place up there with some of the better known animated classics. So long as that place is a step down from the top tier.
Widescreen enhanced for 16:9 televisions, “Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” looks sharp on DVD. It is nearly 40 years old, but despite this age the coloration is strong and grain is minimal. The detail in the artwork is good, but not polished, as it was in the comic strips and the other television specials.
The English Mono Dolby Digital soundtrack holds its own just fine. Background noise is in place, but it does not overpower. The scenes setting up the tents and splashing down the river are especially convincing with their sound, and no difficulty at all is encountered as you listen to the spoken lines. Other options are French and Spanish Mono Dolby Digital, while subtitles are English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
Theatrical trailer. That’s all.
A Final Word:
“Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” is fine for fans, but it isn’t strong enough to hold as special a place as it could.