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  Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown A Raft Of Complaints
Year: 1977
Director: Bill Melendez, Phil Roman
Stars: Duncan Watson, Greg Felton, Stuart Brotman, Gail Davis, Liam Martin, Kirk Jue, Jordan Warren, Jimmy Ahrens, Melanie Kohn, Tom Muller, Bill Melendez, Phil Van Amburg, Joseph Biter
Genre: Comedy, Animated, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The Peanuts Gang are heading off on holiday to camp and have piled onto a bus to take them there, though dog Snoopy (Bill Melendez) and his bird friend Woodstock have opted to take his motorcycle to reach the destination. On the way there, Sally (Gail Davis) waves to two kids who are standing at a garage by the roadside, but they just pull faces at her, much to her outrage, so when the bus stops with a flat tyre, she goes over to give them a piece of her mind. However, she doesn't like the odds, and retreats in what she hopes is a noble fashion while her brother Charlie Brown (Duncan Watson) is left behind and is forced to take a lift from Snoopy on his vehicle, unaware of what's in store...

Now, famously in Charles M. Schulz's comic strip Peanuts, the adults did not appear at all, and that was repeated, mostly, in the films and television specials that were made after the huge success of genuine classic A Charlie Brown Christmas. But if there was ever a story featuring the fictional kids that really needed adult supervision, it was this one, which sets the gang against the laws of nature and a group of bullies who chant "We're number one!" endlessly and are pitted against our heroes for the extended race of the title. There was so much peril, so many sequences that invited you to worry about the safety of these little ones, that it could prove a distraction for the grown-ups.

If you were, say, ten and under, and really liked nineteen-seventies pop culture, then maybe you would be less bothered and take the film in the spirit of adventure as intended. Schulz, who penned the screenplay, based it on an actual camping trip he undertook to research his idea, so all the surprisingly unromantic sequences of the children getting back to nature were somewhat based on his own experience and an indication of how serious he was about his characters. He and director Bill Melendez did not always see eye to eye about the presentation of these cartoons - famously Schulz believed Charlie's crush The Little Red-Haired Girl should not have been seen, for instance.

She certainly was not in the four theatrical features they made, so we had the usual gang in support of Charlie's existential angst, though here he was able to prove himself as not completely useless for a change. The central conceit was that the bullies had to be put in their place and not win a days-long rafting race along a river, so while Schulz may have tended to believe bullies were the ones who won in life, that was not much of a message to show to his younger fans, and a happier ending was concocted. That said, there were caveats, as while Charlie is elected leader of the Peanuts by the end, the adults would note that they simply placed him in that authority to give them a scapegoat to blame should things go wrong, though as the waterwheel scene showed, he was more proactive than they gave him credit for.

Before that, Peanuts fans who were not younglings would see the characters in situations fraught with peril, and all on their own to work out the hazards themselves. Snoopy, for instance, got lost, despite being one of the more capable characters, and the kids had to go and look for him, and who knows what season this was set in, but Charlie and the boys were camping beneath the stars when they were snowed on overnight and covered in the flakes. There were moves to satire that reminded you the original comic strip was not aimed at kids at all, so a dig at politics occurs when Peppermint Patty (Stuart Brotman - yes, a boy) takes votes on what to do from the other girls which she always twists to her advantage, the sort of thing you'd expect Lucy (Melanie Kohn) to get up to ordinarily. But that adventure element was what drove the plot, and nostalgists would like Snoopy's Easy Rider bike, plus the end credits which were positively psychedelic. Probably the least of the features, mind you. Music by Ed Bogas.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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