Directed by: Frederick Du Chau
Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Hayden Panettiere, Wendie Malik, Gary Bullock, M. Emmet Walsh
Now, I like a talking animal as much as the next fellow. After all, I grew up with Mr. Ed on the TV and reissues of Francis the Talking Mule movies on the big screen. So I'm not against the idea of a talking zebra in and of itself, and the one in this by-the-numbers kiddie flick isn't all that bad. Unfortunately -- and despite the jaw-dropping fact that it took four writers to cook up the story -- the movie containing said articulate quadruped is decidedly bad.
Yes, I know this is a movie for children -- presumably very young and undemanding children. However, this is the sort of children's movie that makes me rejoice that my own daughter is 28 years old. It's not that that fact gets me out of sitting through the thing -- obviously, it didn't; instead, it's the comfort I take in knowing that she grew up before the dawn of the flatulence-is-funnier-than-anything era.
For example, there's a scene in Racing Stripes where the talking fly, Scuzz (voiced by the ever-annoying David Spade), propels himself through someone's espresso with his own gas; I shudder at the thought of tykes re-enacting this stunt in bathtubs and swimming pools across the country. In addition, the movie includes numerous references to both Scuzz and his cohort, Buzz (voiced by the almost as annoying Steve Harvey), eating horse ... um, apples, and at one memorable point actually cavorting in the stuff. As if this isn't enough, there's a mobster pelican, Goose (voiced by the second runner-up in annoyance value, Joe Pantoliano), whose specialty is unleashing his bowels on unsuspecting earthbound victims. This is the stuff of parental nightmares.
That aside, Racing Stripes just isn't very good. True, there's a decent cast and an impressive array of stars -- Whoopi Goldberg, Dustin Hoffman, Mandy Moore, Michael Clarke Duncan -- who give voice to the animals. But none of the characters has anything very interesting (or funny) to do, so instead they plod through one of those "heart in the right place" stories that seem to constitute a free pass for children's movies.
In this case, the story's about a lost zebra, Stripes (voiced by Frankie Muniz), who ends up on a farm in Kentucky (a "Kentucky" shot in South Africa, of all places) and develops an identity crisis that prompts him to want to be a racehorse. And, of course, there's a little girl (Hayden Panettiere, Raising Helen) who loves him and wants to ride him to victory. Dad (Bruce Greenwood, Being Julia) is against the idea, since a horse-racing accident killed off mom long before the movie started. (He's apparently seen Gone With the Wind and therefore knows that death by horse is a genetic condition, I guess.)
Anyone over the age of 5 can fill in the rest of the movie without bothering to see it -- and that would be my advice. Rated PG for mildly crude humor and some language.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke