Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 4, 2015)
As a kid in the Seventies, I came to enjoy the Peanuts feature films – all three of them! Actually, a fourth came out in 1980, but as a 13-year-old, I’d pretty much “aged out” of such fare, so I didn’t see it.
That left 1977’s Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown as the last Peanuts flick I saw on the big screen – I guess. Given my age at the time and my cinematic preferences, I’m sure I watched it, but I honestly maintain no memories of the experience.
Even as an adult, I enjoy 1969’s A Boy Named Charlie Brown and 1972’s Snoopy, Come Home, so I figured I should reacquaint myself with Race.
Charlie Brown (voiced by Duncan Watson) and the gang head to summer camp. Stuck in the middle of nowhere, “Camp Remote” lives up to its name and greets the kids with a less than idyllic experience. Charlie Brown finds himself bullied and decides to stand up to them via a raft race.
Boy Named Charlie Brown offered great amusement, but it lacked much of a story, as it came across as a linked collection of short tales. Snoopy came with a tighter narrative but didn’t deliver as much wit and bite as its predecessor.
Race falls somewhere between those two, as it gives us a moderate emphasis on the raft race but also presents the lighter, more comedic feel of Boy rather than the emotional weight of Snoopy. I might be overstating the movie’s narrative clarity, though; Race doesn’t feel as much like a conglomeration of comic strips as Boy does, but it tends to seem somewhat loose and slapdash.
Essentially Race gives us a series of little comedic episodes linked by the raft competition. Is that enough to keep us occupied across its 76 minutes? I guess, but viewers who expect the highs of the earlier movies will find disappointment.
This doesn’t make Race a bad film, but it seems a bit “dumbed down” compared to its predecessors. Peanuts may have appealed to kids, but it was a comic strip with real adult sensibilities and intelligence, and the best TV/film adaptations retained those qualities.
At times, we get decent wit here, but let’s face it: by 1977, the Peanuts strip had lost a lot of its punch, and the movie’s script by Charles M. Schulz doesn’t regain the series’ strengths. Once Peanuts got to the mid/late-1970s, Schulz could still churn out the occasional memorable strip, and the material maintained decent amusement, but Schulz couldn’t compete with his legacy.
I don’t view that as a failing. For a good 20 years or so, Schulz created an amazing body of work, so it comes as no sin that he couldn’t maintain that insane level of intelligence, insight and wit.
Nonetheless, material from the second half of Peanuts’ roughly 50-year existence often seems rather bland, and that issue inhabits Race. At no point does it become a bad movie, but it also never threatens to turn into anything memorable.
Instead, Race seems completely, resolutely, absolutely “there”. It gives us a mix of mildly amusing vignettes that make sure we stay vaguely involved with the tale and that’s about it. Fans could do worse but they probably won’t find much to make Race a memorable experience.