April 27, 2005 -- “Racing Stripes” is a Disney-like kids movie along the lines of “That Darned Cat,” or “The Shaggy Dog.” It was made by Warner Brothers, but it looks like a Disney clone. It doesn't have enough substance for adults, but it is aimed at kids, and it hits that target pretty well, judging by the reaction of the kids in the theater where I saw it.
The story is about a zebra, Stripes, who is accidentally left behind by a circus caravan. Stripes is found by a kindly horse trainer, Nolan Walsh (played by Bruce Greenwood of “Thirteen Days”). He is taken care of by Nolan and his daughter, Channing (Hayden Panettiere of “Ice Princess”). The Walsh farm in Kentucky is located right next to a race track. Channing works at the track where her father used to be a race horse trainer and her late mother was a jockey. When Nolan's wife died in a racing accident, Nolan stopped training horses and forbade his daughter to ride or race.
Stripes (voice by Frankie Muniz of “Agent Cody Banks”) gets it into his head that he is a racehorse instead of a zebra and he wants to race. He can't get the other horses to race him, so he races the mail truck. The local mailman gets a kick out of racing the zebra. Channing wants to race, too, but her father won't let her. The other animals on the farm all have opinions about Stripes' racing ability. The farm's Shetland pony, Tucker (voice by Dustin Hoffman) thinks that Stripes has the speed and heart to be a racer, but others are not so sure. Tucker has experience training race horses. Other animals at the farm are a goat, Franny (voice by Whoopi Goldberg), Goose, a pelican hiding from the mob (voice by Joe Pantoliano of “The Sopranos” TV show), Reggie the rooster (voice by Jeff Foxworthy) and the constantly napping bloodhound Lightning (voice by Snoop Dogg of “Baby Boy.” Is this supposed to be a pun?).
A considerable amount of time goes by in the movie while Tucker and Nolan dither around about whether or not to train Stripes to race, and whether or not to let Channing ride him. It comes down to Channing badgering her father with lines like “please let me ride Stripes.” A local racetrack gambler, Woodzie (played by veteran character actor M. Emmet Walsh) sees Stripes run and thinks he has a long shot chance to win the big race. Hard-hearted local racetrack owner Clara Dalrymple (Wendie Malick) uncharacteristically agrees to allow Stripes into the race. It all comes down to the big race of course. Dalrymple is the movie's heavy, along with a racehorse with too much pride. Comic relief is provided by the pelican, Goose, the rooster, the dog and by the (animated) horseflies, Buzz and Scuzz, (voices provided by comedians Steve Harvey and David Spade, respectively).
The acting in the film is fairly good. The digital animation of the horseflies and the animals' mouths is seamless and well-done. The story is decent, but the jokes are weak, especially on the adult level. There is more than enough kid-level flatulence and scatalogical humor. I suppose you have to expect barnyard humor in a film which takes place in a barnyard, but I longed for something more clever and less crude. This film is a couple of notches below the best family films of the year, “The Incredibles” and “Shrek 2” and it isn't as good as “Shark Tales,” either. This is just a run-of-the-mill kiddie film with cute animals. It would be far better to rent the video for home viewing than to have to go to the theater and see it with your kids. It rates a C.
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