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Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown Review

Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977) movie poster Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown

Theatrical Release: June 2, 1977 / Running Time: 76 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Bill Melendez / Co-Director: Phil Roman / Writer: Charles M. Schulz

Voice Cast: Duncan Watson (Charlie Brown), Greg Felton (Schroeder), Stuart Brotman (Peppermint Patty), Gail Davis (Sally Brown), Liam Martin (Linus Van Pelt), Kirk Jue (Bully), Jordan Warren (Bully), Jimmy Ahrens (Marcie), Melanie Kohn (Lucy Van Pelt), Tom Muller (Franklin, Bully), Bill Melendez (Snoopy, Woodstock, others), Fred Van Amburg (Radio Announcer)

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For a long time, animated Peanuts specials adapted from Charles Schulz's popular newspaper comic strip were a fixture in network television. At the height of their productivity, the 1970s and '80s, hardly a year passed without a new half-hour special debuting and even if it did,
there would still be seasonable reruns of past cartoons like A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the first and still most beloved of the 45 specials produced. From 1969 to 1980, while this tradition was flourishing on the small screen, Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Sally, Peppermint Patty, Snoopy, and friends also made the occasional jump to the big screen.

In that eleven-year period, Schulz's creations starred in four theatrically released feature films. CBS Films produced the first two: A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969) and Snoopy, Come Home (1972). Then, after a brief hiatus, Paramount Pictures took over, releasing Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown in 1977 and Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back!!) in 1980. It would be reasonable to assume that these movies would bring Peanuts to a new audience, but I'm not sure anyone was left out by the widely-syndicated daily comics and frequent primetime pre-emptions. The two Paramount releases covered by modern box office tracking, at least, were far from cultural events, grossing just $2-$3 million apiece, something over a hundred films did every year back then. The movies did not have the chance to seep into public consciousness by repetition; their subsequent broadcasts on television wouldn't be the event that the half-hour specials were and there weren't any holidays in the foreground to justify them becoming an annual tradition.

Furthermore, Paramount has allowed the latter two Peanuts movies to become obscure, having never released them on DVD. Race for Your Life finally turned up on that format this week, nine months before Blue Sky Studios and 20th Century Fox will give the franchise a new shot at relevance in the computer-animated The Peanuts Movie.

Eight members of the Peanuts gang share a raft in the camp movie "Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown."

Race plays like a triple-length special. It is still comprised of little scenes you could probably condense to four comic strip panels. The movie, which identifies the famous characters in its opening titles, begins with the gang taking a school bus ride into the desert. They are bound for Camp Remote and a number of fun activities up in the mountains. Charlie Brown gets left behind at the last rest stop. Fortunately, he gets a motorcycle ride from Snoopy, who is also heading to camp with Woodstock.

Upon arriving, Charlie Brown is soon tormented by a trio of bullies. Camp seems to be divided into groups of four. The bullies' full-fledged fourth member is a prickly orange cat with a spiky collar who quickly puts Snoopy in his place. The boys (Charlie Brown, Linus, Franklin, and Schroeder) and the girls (Peppermint Patty,
Marcie, Lucy, and Sally) claim separate cabins. The girls decide to do things democratically, using secret ballots to vote on any major decision they have to make. To break a four-way tie, Peppermint Patty votes herself tent leader.

Camp unfolds without even a glimpse of adult leg or the sound of their trombone speaking. Peppermint Patty gets a waterbed. The troublemaking bullies cheat in a potato sack race and deflate the competition's rafts to ensure they are, as they assert, Number One. While rafting, our eight lead kids run into some trouble. First, they enter an area of scheduled blasting. Then, they find themselves in the middle of a sudden, severe storm. The kids get shipwrecked on an island, but there isn't any real danger. The boys find and occupy a cabin, where they treat themselves to a dinner of cold cereal. The girls join them and, after some dancing, they vote unanimously to sleep inside the house while the boys are relocated outside. It snows overnight, which should pose consequences to those boys in their short-sleeved shirts. Instead, the weather is used for some sight gags and a brief discussion of Christmas trees.

The raft race resumes with more complications, including some rapids.

Peppermint Patty and the girls do things democratically with secret ballots. Charlie Brown gets a motorcycle ride to Camp Remote courtesy of Snoopy and Woodstock.

Nothing too memorable occurs in Race for Your Life. This harmless outing feels like a Saturday morning diversion that isn't meant to stand the test of time. It arrived in theaters the summer before the first VHS VCR went on sale for customers. Obviously television provided movies an afterlife at the time (Race would premiere on HBO by May 1978), but the concept of being raised on regular viewings of a favorite movie had not yet caught on. This is not the kind of movie destined for that treatment from many. That is not meant as a slight, only to indicate the amount of effort that went into this, the third of four movies that weren't subjected to the same commercial expectations and passionate criticism that today's new animated films get.

Back in the late 1970s, there wasn't much of a market for theatrical animation beyond Disney's new releases and constant stream of reissues. In the early '80s, we started to see more films adapted from television cartoons and something that could almost be considered actual competition to Disney in the works of Don Bluth. But though they might invite nostalgia and appreciation, most of the animated films then do not stand up to the scrutiny we give the Disney ones that continue to sell in great numbers. Race for Your Life is probably too slow and old-fashioned for today's children unacquainted with Peanuts beyond merchandise. Even those who take to the upcoming Blue Sky movie would likely be better served by the half-hour programs that are much shorter but no less ambitious.

Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital Mono 2.0 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Closed Captioned; Extra Not Subtitled
Release Date: February 10, 2015
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.98
Red Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Presenting the 1.85:1 film in 1.78:1, the picture quality on Paramount's DVD is good,
but the simple visuals make it easy to notice imperfections. Ringing around lines look like a compression artifact, which there absolutely shouldn't be on even a single-layered disc holding under 80 minutes of content. The colors are agreeably vibrant. The element is refreshingly clean; there are very few instances of shots where small debris stays in place as characters move. There's a little room for improvement, but for standard definition, this is quite satisfying. (And don't think that just because this is a feature film it doesn't suffer from some of the animation errors that the early Peanuts specials are full of; Franklin's two-toned hat changes colors on more than one occasion.)

The Dolby 2.0 mono soundtrack is basic yet competent. The recordings are clearly aged and do not have much depth to them, but they compare to those of the specials and satisfy in a way similar to how their DVDs do.

The theatrical trailer advertises the star power of "Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown" with Polaroids of Peppermint Patty and other characters. The Race for Your Life DVD's plain main menu adapts the cover art.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The only bonus feature is Race for Your Life's original theatrical trailer (3:02).
Though not as valuable as the featurettes Warner produced for their specials' compilations a few years back, this nifty inclusion still warrants appreciation. It will induce nostalgia with dated narration you could easily imagine being recycled for Meatballs.

The plain gray disc is held in a red keepcase, a rarity outside "Little Einsteins" judging from the thousands of DVDs I've encountered. An embossed slipcover slides over that unusually colored case, which holds no inserts.

The static, silent main menu repositions the cover art images to fill the 16:9 frame.

Upon arriving at Camp Remote, Charlie Brown is ridiculed by three bullies and their cat.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown is something you probably had to see at a young age for it to have made an indelible impression on you. Even I, someone who's watched and written about as many Peanuts specials as anyone, struggle to find anything too remarkable about this film. The wit and personalities for which Schulz is beloved are on display and there are some amusing bits. Still, the whole thing seems pretty forgettable. Harmless, comforting, and reasonably entertaining, but forgettable all the same.

Paramount's DVD is basic but good. It does seem to have arrived about ten to fifteen years too late to receive the attention it seeks. In 2015, you're kind of left wondering why the studio even bothered with a single-movie DVD now. You may even opt to wait for the four-film, two Blu-ray set that would make sense for animation collectors. Those as fond of Peanuts as I am will agree that Race is worth a look, but I can't say it's something I see anyone without specific childhood memories revisiting with any regularity.

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Related Reviews:
Peanuts: 1970's Collection, Vol. 1 Peanuts: 1970's Collection, Vol. 2 Peanuts: 1960's Collection
1970s: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh The Rescuers Pete's Dragon Freaky Friday
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Garfield Holiday Collection The Chipmunk Adventure

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Reviewed February 12, 2015.



Text copyright 2015 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1977 Paramount Pictures and United Feature Syndicate, Inc. and 2015 Paramount Home Entertainment.
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