Racing Stripes will be very familiar territory for many film goers, especially those who saw and adored 1995’s Babe. While Babe was a pig raised by sheepdogs and was actually under the impression that he was a dog, Stripes is a zebra who believes he is a horse. And he has the the heart of a racing champion.
At the beginning of the film, young Stripes (voiced by Frankie Muniz of Malcolm In The Middle fame) is accidentally left behind when the traveling circus he is in gets stuck in the mud on a rainy night. He is rescued by Nolan Walsh (Greenwood), a Kentucky farmer with a successful history of raising thoroughbreds. He takes Stripes home, and his daughter Channing (Hayden Panettiere) takes an immediate liking to him.
Stripes is far from alone in the animal kingdom on the farm. The barn is filled with all kinds of animals, all of whom can talk and are voiced by a wide array of Hollywood talent. Stripes becomes especially good friends with Tucker (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) and Sandy (voiced by Mandy Moore), a pony and sheep, respectively. Other characters include a mobster-wannabe pelican, Goose (voiced by Joe Pantoliano), lazy dog Lightning (voiced by Snoop Dogg), crazy chicken Reggie (voiced by Jeff Foxworthy), wise goat Franny (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg), and Scuzz (voiced by David Spade) and Buzz (voiced by Steve Harvey), two insects who cause as much trouble as they can.
But none of the animals on the farm have the heart to tell Stripes that he is a zebra and has no chance of ever racing horses. Stripes truly has the drive and the will to be a champion, but how can that ever be proven when he can’t race?
The core story of Stripes wanting to be a race horse is underscored with subplots involving an evil horse owner who only cares about winning (Malick) and some family drama involving Nolan and Channing. It’s wrapped together nicely, if not in a standard fashion.
Of course all of this culminates in the big race between Stripes and his horse competitors, led by Trenton’s Pride (voiced by Joshua Jackson), the son of champion horse Sir Trenton (voiced by Fred Dalton Thompson). We all know the outcome, but that’s not what this film is about.
I have found a good litmus test for films like this to be whether the young people are glued to the screen in amazement or sleeping (or even talking on cell phones these days). The screening I attended was loaded with young kids, and most appeared to be fixated on this film. It’s a fact that kids love talking animals, but here we have an uncomplicated, feel-good story that really gives kids a hero to root for. They were eating it up.
As for those talking animals, they look amazingly good. Real animals were filmed, but their mouths were later altered using CGI to match the screenplay and voicings by the actors. The images are very smooth and very convincing, so much in fact that it may creep people out at first.
The voice talent is first rate, but unfortunately Frankie Muniz as Stripes is a tremendous letdown. His voicings are very wooden and sound forced. It doesn’t seem like he had a firm grasp on what the role demanded, and as a result his voice comes across as dull and uninteresting. On the bright side, nearly everyone else is spot on. Joe Pantoliano steals the show as Goose, who wants so badly to be tough. He shoots off the mobster dialect without hesitation, but when it comes down to following through with actions, he’s a total softy.
David Spade is entertaining at first as Scuzz, but eventually wears out his welcome with seemingly endless fart jokes and bad singing. Also listen closely for a brief appearance by the voice of none other than Snoop Dogg, who seems to be the most omnipresent actor of all time.
Director Frederik Du Chau and screenwriter David Schmidt keep everything moving along nicely, with plenty of action and drama to keep the youngsters interested. The film has a beautiful look to it, and there are some zippy one-liners that should please everyone.
Rating Racing Stripes under the criteria of anything other than family entertainment would be inappropriate. This is not high art, but it is a film that accomplishes what it set out to do, and in a very entertaining and positive way. This is very worthwhile entertainment for the kids, especially considering that this is the only big-time family film until Robots is released on March 11.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 84 Minutes
Rating: PG for mild crude humor and some language.
Theatrical Release: January 14, 2005
Directed by: Frederik Du Chau
Written by: David Schmidt. Based upon the story by David Schmidt & Steven P. Wegner & Kirk De Micco & Frederik Du Chau.
Cast: Frankie Muniz (voice), David Spade (voice), Steve Harvey (voice), Snoop Dogg (voice), Mandy Moore (voice), Jeff Foxworthy (voice)