“Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” (1977) FILM REVIEW
Written by Jambareeqi
Posted 15th July, 2018
Based on the Peanuts comics by Charles Schulz, this film has Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and their friends going off to camp together. While camping, they take part in various activities, but the major event is a raft race, which pits our heroes against a trio of cheating bullies.
Now, those expecting a profound film that captures the existentialism of Schulz’s comics, will be sorely disappointed, which I totally understand if that’s what draws you to Peanuts. This is a fairly straight forward children’s camp comedy about an outdoor competition, as run of the mill as it gets, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it sounds boring to you.
However, while the film it doesn’t exactly shake up the summer camp comedy formula, the race is energized by dangerous obstacles, our heroes are put in some wild peril, and kids will be kept on their toes about what’ll stop Charlie next (although, some audiences will find these conflicts too short lived). It is quite alarming to see the Peanuts kids facing stormy waters or demolition bombs, when we’re so used to seeing them in more mundane situations.
The movie also likes to take rests between the action too, giving us slow scenes of rafts flowing down a peaceful river, set alongside pretty scenery and cheery folk music. These were my favourite parts of the movie, as it made for a relaxing atmosphere, and it’s rare for kids’ movies to settle down this much. I’ll confess that the film gets bumpy in the middle, when the race abruptly stops for a “lost in the forest” plot, a sudden narrative disruption that will annoy those immersed in the raft competition.
Our villains are as generic as kids’ movies antagonists get, a bunch of bullies who act like jerks for the sake of continuing their yearly winning streak, but they help play into the movie’s simple lesson of not cheating in competitions, by paying the price for being underhanded. These brats have the most annoying looped evil laugh I’ve ever heard haha! This grating track gets played so much, that it actually makes me root for our heroes even more.
The comedy is far from inventive, relying on the same skits very frequently, especially a running joke that the girls depend on secret ballots to make team decisions. In spite of this, I did smile or laugh when these gags were first played out, as they are legit funny jokes before being run into the ground. Small kids might enjoy this repetition, especially as the comedy is tailored more to their tastes, but fans will be sad that the distinct Peanuts dry wit is a rarity.
It is adorable seeing Snoopy & Woodstock joining in on the camping, being their usual wacky selves, even entering the race themselves as a team, and who can’t cheer on these two cute critters? Their silent camping antics are also a welcome break from listening to the poor child actors, most of which shout their lines with wooden deliveries (a staple of Bill Melendez’s Charlie Brown cartoons).
I’ll admit that the trademark gag of not showing the adults is distracting here, especially when there doesn’t seem to be a sign of any at all being around (not even any trumpeted wah-wahs are heard), because these kids are doing some rather dangerous tasks, making me wonder why this camp was basically being run by kids, and my suspension of belief was certainly tested throughout the movie. This does affect the story, as it made me puzzle over why adults weren’t hunting down the kids when they went missing, and it’s not exactly a good message to imply that’s it’s fine for small children to raft race alone.
The animation isn’t exactly cinema release quality, but I doubt that this was a big deal back in the day, as Disney was cutting back on costs around this time themselves, so a scrappy looking Charlie Brown movie wouldn’t have stood out too much. Keep in mind too, director Bill Melendez was an assistant animator at Disney before committing to this franchise, so he’s well educated on the principles, and characters can have inventive expressiveness in their gestures.
To Conclude, this movie is rather standard stuff as far as kids’ movies go, but it’s got a cool as a cucumber vibe to it’s atmosphere, a simple lesson about the consequences of cheating, and there are some funny moments. If you like relaxing slice of life films about cute dogs and camping, then give it a go! But don’t expect the same intellectual wit as an actual Peanuts comic.
If you enjoyed my review, please consider supporting me with a tip through Ko-fi: