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DVD Review: “Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown”

DVD Review: "Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown"

If a DVD
falls into stores and no one is around to hear about it, does it still make a
sound? For the first time, Race for Your
Life, Charlie Brown
has just been released on DVD, with little or no
fanfare. Not even a kazoo.

The third
Peanuts feature, Race for Your Life
may have been overshadowed by 1977’s summer megahit, Star Wars. It didn’t stay in theaters long enough for even some of
the diehard Peanuts fans to see it. However, over almost 40 years since, it
became a staple of HBO and other cable outlets, with endless broadcasts all the
way up to 2013 on ABC Family. It was available on video tape and laserdisc.

To all of
those viewers, the arrival of this film on DVD is an event. Maybe not a big
one, but more than it has received. (Thanks for letting us know about it,

Race for Your Life was marketed as a film that was not
based on a previous story, comic or special. True to a point; many of Schulz’s
comic strip gags are woven into the proceedings and the camp premise had been
done—albeit differently—in “It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown”.

storyline isn’t any tighter than it was in the other Peanuts features, but
that’s not why we watch them. It’s really about spending time with these
characters, following them wherever they meander. Race For Your Life has a bit more action and adventure than the
average Peanuts entry—an aspect that the original advertising stressed. The TV
spot showed little more than the characters screaming through apparent dangers.


Being a big
screen film with a vast natural setting (all four Peanuts features offer
different locales), the artwork opens things up while seeming to stay within
the simple look of the Schulz world. There’s no denying that Bill Melendez and
his artists were the perfect marriage with Schulz’s delicate vision. The
feature also tosses out little “they-didn’t-have-to-do-it-but-they-did-it-anyway”
touches throughout. The bigger ones include a brief first-person ride through a
giant sequoia, but it’s the little ones—like Charlie Brown scratching his elbow
as Franklin asks him a question—truly ground the film’s idiosyncratic reality.

This feature
also reflects the evolution of the Peanuts strip and its TV specials. Snoopy
and Peppermint Patty were becoming lead characters over Charlie Brown and Lucy.
Snoopy’s fantastic feats had gone from his personal imagination to everyone’s
reality. He and Woodstock blast upon the scene in “Born to Be Wild” fashion,
and the gang simply accepts it. It’s as if Dr. Bellows found out about Jeannie
and didn’t mind at all.

Guaraldi had passed away roughly a month before the “It’s Arbor Day, Charlie
Brown” special was broadcast. Granted, even Guaraldi had shaken things up
musically in such specials as the underappreciated “Play It Again, Charlie
Brown,” which was the first time he broke away from the more familiar Guaraldi
Trio (and sometimes John Scott Trotter) sound.

The music
in Race for Your Life—as well as in subsequent TV specials—is by the prolific
Ed Bogas, who was up to the unenviable task of following Guaraldi as the
Peanuts house composer/conductor. With Judy Munsen, Desiree Goyette and Mark
Evanier, he also wrote music and lyrics for countless Garfield cartoons. He
made the Peanuts music his own, rather than cloning Guaraldi. In Race for Your Life, there are also two
songs performed off camera by singer/guitarist Larry Finlayson, though
unfortunately there was no soundtrack LP, story album or read-along record
based on the film.

Back when Race For Your Life was broadcast on
cable, it had the muddiest sound quality this side of the Thunderbird Drive-In
in Fort Lauderdale. I don’t recall the network broadcasts being much better,
but I didn’t tune into every one. Suffice it to say the sound is crisper and clearer on this DVD in comparison to the previous lesser presentations.

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