The vacuous quality of "Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown," now at area theaters, would be better represented by a title like, "Bore Me to Death, Charlie Brown." Produced by Lee Mendelson and directed by Bill Nelendez, who have collaborated with Charles M. Schulz on 17 television specials and two theatrical features with the "Peanuts" characters, this new animated feature is the least accomplished and diverting of their feature-length efforts.
"Race" was touted as the first "Peanuts" movie to use a story continuity that didn't originate in the comic strip. What a pity no one thought of a premise that could sustain a feature. "Race" suffers primarily form the absence of a serviceable continuity. Ten characters - Charlie Brown, Linus, Schroeder, Franklin, Lucy, Sally, Peppermint Patty, Marcie, Snoopy and Woodstock - are transported to a summer camp, but neither the large cast nor the setting has inspired a sequence of events that can be considered even marginally suspenseful or amusing.
It was easier to adjust to the episodic continuity of the earlier films which simply strung eogether situations transposed from the comics. Despite the intention of inventing fresh material, "Race" turns out to be episodic it has least effective way: It's dreadfully shorto n episodes, and the ones it has are undernourished. The camp might have been employed as a source of many comic situations, wiht the focus shifting from one character or combination of characters to another. Instead, the filmmakers lose sight of the camp altogether and place their meager bets on a seemingly endless, increasinly tedious and implausible boat race, with the unchapereoned kids paddling down a river that appears as long and dangerous as the Colorado.
Peppermint Patty, acting officiously bossy, is allowed to hog the spotlight to an extent that does nothing ingratiating for her or the movie. This also invites considerable confusion about another character: Why should a girl as bossy as Lucy be sitting still while Patty tries a run things? Lucy's docility alone would make one wonder if this story had been written by an impostor.
In its original static format, Schulz's spare, simplified drawing syle has alawys seemed humorously astute and expressive, just the thing to set off characters who display verbal precocity. Adapting this style to animation, especially large-screen animation, poses special problems. Obviously, you want the backgrounds to have more detail, depth and color without interfering with the witty dialouge between the characters. By failing to divert us with such witty dialogue, "Race" leaves the eye and mind free to notice a lot of inert, monotonous animation. I became far more conscious than I wanted to of the uniform roundness of the characters' heads and the limited expressive capacity of their faces.
When Disney animators work at their full skills, traditions and senses of humor, they do make the competion look sick. The recent "Raggedy Ann & Andy" was in the nature of a nice, fitfully talented try, but Disney's "The Rescuers" obliterated it by giving more satisfaction in more ways - more story, more characterization, more gags, more sentiment, more ingenuity, more energy, more pictorial imagination and variety, more of everything. "Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown" is less of everything, including less than one expects from Chares M. Schultz.