The last time 1977’s Race for You Life, Charlie Brown received an official release was in 1995, on VHS and laserdisc. This is an inconceivable crime! It was a staple of my childhood and is a fondly remembered installment in the Peanuts canon by many fans. Written by Charles Schulz and directed by Bill Melendez, Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown is the third of four feature length Peanuts films produced from 1969-1980 and chronicles the misadventures of the Peanuts gang in their most epic story to date.
The movie begins with the whole Peanuts crew heading off to summer camp and a determined Charlie Brown committed to building character and developing leadership skills while there. “I decided to come to camp, because I’ve never been much of a person,” he admits. Our heroes immediately become involved in a multi-day river raft race through the wilderness against a group of bullies and their evil cat, Brutus, who have cheated their way to victory every year they have competed. Along the course, Snoopy, Woodstock, and the elementary school kids are faced with a series of harrowing threats including a storm, a blizzard, being lost, being stranded, explosions from a demolition, waterfalls, the bullies’ sabotage, and themselves. It is a nail-biter to the finish line as Charlie Brown tries to lead his crew to victory and everybody learns a thing or two about the meaning of cooperation, friendship, and perseverance by the time they leave ‘Camp Remote.’
An animated slice of Americana, Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown stands out from the rest of the Peanuts tales for many reasons. Firstly, the wilderness setting and grandeur of the plot give it a cinematic quality absent from any other Peanutsinstallments. The unique background art is also reflective of this fact. They are not just chatting around the school grounds or baseball diamond here. There is no doubt that the Peanuts friends have never experienced more perils and danger than in this race. This is also the first time we see real antagoinists outside of the usual group and a true adversary for Snoopy. The film’s folksy western inspired score, appropriate for the context, is notably different from the usual Vince Guaraldi jazz scores synonymous with the early Peanuts shorts. This also happens to be the first feature produced after Guaraldi’s death.
It is not entirely new territory in these woods though. The classic Peanuts group dynamics are in full swing among Charlie Brown, Linus, Sally, Lucy, Schroeder, Franklin, Peppermint Patty, and Marcie. Snoopy and Woodstock are often out on their own dialogue-free, visual gag filled subplots. There is a rather catchy theme song. Although the voice cast is entirely different than 1965’s seminal A Charlie Brown Christmas, they do their best to capture the idiosyncrasies of the originals. The differences are minimally noticeable, unlike the more recent Peanuts adaptations.
Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown is a fun screen adventure for the Peanuts gang that certainly deserves a release on a current media format, but perhaps the most culturally significant thing about this movie is that it is the esthetic basis for many of the Peanuts-themed theme park areas and attractions found at Cedar Fair owned parks across the nation. What would Camp Snoopy at Knott’s Berry Farm be if Charlie Brown had never decided to go to camp to become more of a person? At King’s Island in Ohio you can even go on “a splash-filled water adventure for guests of all ages as they float through an excursion in the wilderness and race to the finish line” at Race For Your Life Charlie Brown, the ride. Appropriately, it is a log flume attraction featuring a trip over a 40-foot waterfall. While kids today may not actually be able to watch the movie, they can certainly experience its cultural legacy.
Check out last week’s Video Vault entry, The Phantom Tollbooth here.