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Thursday 10 June 2021

Burl reviews Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown! (1977)


Good grief, it’s Burl! Yes, I’m here to review an animated picture: one of the few I actually saw in the theatre! Growing up I had a neighbourhood theatre, what Variety used to call a “nabe” before all the nabes closed down! That's a very sad loss to me, and I expect it is to you too! Anyway, I used to go down to my nabe every wek and see whatever was playing, and if it wasn’t some weird Sunn Classics pseudodocumentary, or a genuine motion picture like The Bad News Bears or The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, it was a children’s animation just like today’s picture, Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown!

I remember enjoying it at the time, ha ha, but then I was just a wee tyke and my critical faculties had not yet been fully honed! I’ve watched it again several times over the past five years or so because my son had fallen under the Peanuts spell and so I went and hunted down a VHS copy of it! The Peanuts spell is a perfectly healthy spell so far as I’m concerned, and it was a pleasure to watch the movie again when I initially found the VHS, and an undiminished pleasure to watch it once more the other day!

We were at a wilderness cabin for the screening, and it was a very hot and summery evening, and these are the second most ideal circumstances under which to see this picture, the first most, naturally, being to see it at the nabe when you’re six years old! Ha ha! But however you watch it, the movie remains the story of the Peanuts gang, or selected members thereof, attending a summer camp and engaging in a raft race through an endless variety of landscapes such as you find described in books like Blood Meridian!

Charlie Brown proves himself a blockhead right from the opening moments, after the credits and their bad-but-catchy theme song that is, when he fails to step back on the bus after a rest stop and must travel the rest of the way riding pillion on Snoopy’s chopper, in constant screaming terror for his life! Once there, a group of camp bullies take Charlie Brown to task straight away for his round head, his bizarre name (?), and his pathetically evident need to prove himself! Only Linus cracking his blanket like a whip rescues the hydrocephalic hero from his trouble!

After some camp gags and a few competitive activities which the bullies win by rank underhandedness, the race is under way! Our hero gang divide themselves by gender: Charlie Brown, Linus, Franklin, and Schroeder in one boat; Lucy, Sally, Peppermint Patty and Marcie in another; and of course Snoopy and Woodstock participate in the race too, using their own jury-rigged watercraft! The bullies have a powerboat equipped with radar and sonar and all manner of technology, and they, along with their spike-collared cat, engage in never-ending shenanigans in their monomaniacal effort to win!

Ha ha, I always thought the Peanuts gang were supposed to be six or seven years old, but this race, which takes multiple days and shunts them through an array of biospheres and climates, landscapes of desolation and abundance, through blasting sites, fishing villages, and over waterfalls, would test the mettle of the most cunning raftsman! On top of these hardships, the gang must not only contend with the bullies and their fiendish plots, but Peppermint Patty’s deluded, fascistic idea of how democracy works, and how it must be constantly applied by secret ballot to every decision made by the group!

The movie’s own politics are equally confused, as, after a series of highly annoying episodes in which Patty’s balloting madness results in, for example, the boys being forced to sleep outside in a (highly incongruous) snowstorm, some cohesion is only reached when she appoints Charlie Brown as Supreme Leader, singularly responsible for all decision-making! And while this doesn’t lead to triumph in the race, it at least helps prevent the bullies from winning, so there’s some semblance of a happy ending; at least, as much of one as a depressive like Charles M. Schultz could manage!

It’s a nice-looking picture, adhering to the patented simplicity of the Peanuts world, but mustering a bountiful supply of landscape and flora to spruce it up; and of course it wins points for using real children as the kids’ voices! One big debit, though, is the treatment of poor Franklin, who is given virtually nothing to say or do! I’ve always liked Franklin, so would that it were otherwise - and, I mean, just look at that poster! He doesn't even get his own little name-box! Shameful, says I! I give Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown two and a half corned willies!


  1. Hmm, there's a reason South Park called their Franklin character "Token". Schulz was well-meaning, but poor old Franklin never had much to do as far as I recall. Even Pigpen got a scrap of comedy thrown his way occasionally!

    Race for Your Life is a weird one, you really notice the lack of adults when these kids are left to fend for themselves in potentially life-endangering circumstances. I suppose the adventure was what mattered. I do like all four Charlie Brown cartoon movies in that series.

    1. This might be my favourite of them, but more because I remember the intoxicating experience of seeing it on the big screen than because it's of particularly high quality! But I may also have seen Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown in the cinema, but that one might have a little too much "Snoopy in WW I France" stuff in it! Some of that material is charming, but a little goes a long way, I find!