A zebra foal, accidentally left behind by a travelling circus, is rescued by champion ex-horse trainer Nolan Walsh (Bruce Greenwood) and taken back to Wlash Farm and his 16 year old daughter Channing (Hayden Panettiere). Stripes (voiced by Frankie Muniz), as Channing names the foal, soon falls into the doting, critical and inspirational arms of the barnyard misfits, led by a cranky Shetland pony, Tucker (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) and Franny (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg), a wise old goat who keeps the family in line. Stripes, who loves to run and seeing the thoroughbred race horses at the adjacent racecourse, soon believes that he too, is a racehorse. Channing, who has a similar ambition - to become a jockey, like her late mum, killed in a fall - is all for it. And the Kentucky Crown is coming up…. But no-one else reckons Stripes should race – except the other farm animals. And there’s more riding on his win than just young Channing on his back...
Review by Louise Keller:
I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for zebras. As a child, I loved my stuffed zebra toy, which had pride of place next to my horse and other animal friends. So I was rather pleased to hear that the underexposed zebra, was at last about to get star billing in Racing Stripes. But the trouble with Racing Stripes is that it tries to be too many things for too many people. Unlike Babe, which knows exactly what kind of film it aspires to be, Racing Stripes seems unsure of its target market. The story certainly has its heart in the right place and will appeal to young horse-loving girls, but the script is not funny enough, and the references confused.
On one hand, there’s the excitement and tension on the racetrack as Stripes, the zebra who dreams of becoming a racehorse makes his dreams come true, and the parallel story of 16 year old Channing (Hayden Panettiere), who wants to ride and be a winner like her mother. These stories are compatible, and are a cross between National Velvet and Seabiscuit. But the difficulties begin when the animals start talking. Integrating storylines with talking animals and live action is a tricky business. Babe made the leap and so did Who Killed Roger Rabbit. I also had a soft spot for Mr Ed, the talking horse. But the world of a talking zebra, a Shetland Pony who trains him, a pelican called Goose, a sleepy bloodhound, a rooster who crows the daily farm report plus a couple of rap-dancing flies who find heaven in a pile of manure, is quite another thing. Especially if it appears that the human characters are in a different film. The leap from CGI flies singing Ebony and Ivory on Stripes’ stripes to a father’s letting his daughter pursue her dreams is too big a leap.
I enjoyed some of the ideas – like the Pelican moaning lines from The Godfather (‘Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in’), and the love interest between Stripes and the pretty white mare Sandy, but a film where ideas have been squashed together like a scoop of mashed potato with toffee, does not appeal.
Bruce Greenwood grounds the film as Channing’s father, and the voice cast, headed by Frankie Muniz, Dustin Hoffman, Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Clarke Duncan, Snoop Dogg and Mandy Moore are excellent.
Racing Stripes is an ambitious film with some entertainment value. It’s a shame the gamble doesn’t pay off.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Racing Stripes fall between two horses, as it were, as it canters towards a wider audience than its subject matter strictly dictates. (My bad puns will soon fade away…) The little zebra who thinks he’s a racehorse – until the truth is brutally pointed out – appeals to youngsters generally and the horsey aspect to young pre-pubescent girls, for whom Hayden Panettiere will be the star attraction, second only to the zebra and the horses. Although the racehorses are given such unappealing characteristics, it’s likely to make the teens annoyed. It certainly annoyed me.
That, and the clunky direction and rather dull script; attempting to liven things up by two foul mouthed (literally) flies, the filmmakers further muddy the tone with a combination of crass vulgarity and hip movie references in dialogue. Dialogue of which in general there is just too much from the mouths of the farm animals. The novelty quickly wears off, since the attitudes that are implied in the voices are not reflected in the animals’ faces. These are not cartoon animals, just manipulated ones.
Talking animals were done better in Babe, which also had charm and style, elements that are sadly missing in Racing Stripes. Exempt from this criticism are Hayden Patteniere and Bruce Greenwood (in a rare goodie role) as her widower dad, both of whom deliver charming characterisations amidst the oversize elements of the film. Another exception is M. Emmet Walsh as an old trackside figure with en eye for a good runner.
Scant moments of entertainment are scattered through the predicability, and it’s a relief when the anticipated big race at the end is … over.
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RACING STRIPES (G)
CAST: Bruce Greenwood, Hayden Panettiere, Caspar Poyck, Gary Bullock, Wendie Malick, M. Emmet Walsh
VOICES: Frankie Muniz, Mandy Moore, Michael Clarke Duncan, Dustin Hoffman, David Spade, Snoop Dogg, Joshua Jackson, Joe Pantoliano, Whoopie Goldberg
PRODUCER: Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove, Edward McDonnell, Lloyd Phillips
DIRECTOR: Frederick Du Chau
SCRIPT: David Schmidt
CINEMATOGRAPHER: David Eggby
EDITOR: Tom Finan
MUSIC: Mark Isham
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Wolf Kroeger
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 6, 2006
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: June 16, 2005