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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review

Racing Stripes (2005)
1 Stars

Directed by Frederik Du Chau
Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Hayden Panettiere, Wendie Malick, M. Emmet Walsh, Gary Bullock, Caspar Poyck
Voices: Frankie Muniz, Whoopi Goldberg, Dustin Hoffman, Mandy Moore, Joshua Jackson, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Spade, Steve Harvey, Joe Pantoliano, Jeff Foxworthy, Michael Rosenbaum, Fred Dalton Thompson, Jansen Panettiere, Snoop Dogg
2005 – 94 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for mild crude humor and some language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, December 30, 2004.

A distaff knock-off of 1995's "Babe" and practically every other talking-animal movie ever made—albeit more vulgar than most—"Racing Stripes" embodies what January movies are made of. The plot and characters are approximately as hackneyed as they come in the family film arena, cause for embarrassment on the end of the four different story writers credited, while the entire picture is without the necessary energy to thoroughly captivate audiences. When the highlighted jokes involve flatulence, landing in feces, and having bird droppings fall onto a villain's hat as her comeuppance, it is pretty safe to say crossover appeal with adults isn't going to happen. Additionally, the picture is simply too small in scale and too lame comedically to be commercially viable at any other time of year but in the dead of winter. In this respect, "Racing Stripes" fits snugly into its release date.

When a baby zebra is accidentally left behind on a road during a rain-swept night, he is saved by Nolan Walsh (Bruce Greenwood), a farmer and ex-horse trainer still mourning the death of his wife. Nolan and his teenage daughter, Channing (Hayden Panettiere), keep the zebra, naming him Stripes. Three years later, a grown Stripes (voiced by Frankie Muniz), not realizing he isn't a horse, wants nothing more than to become a thoroughbred and race in the Kentucky Open. Channing, who wants to follow in the footsteps of her late horse-racing mother if Nolan will agree to it, sees the talent and speed in Stripes, too, and begins to train him for the derby. Their biggest opposers are Stripes' main competition, Trenton's Pride (voiced by Joshua Jackson), and the track's nasty owner, Clara Dalrymple (Wendie Malick), who believes zebras don't have any business racing professional horses.

Unimpressively directed by Frederik Du Chau, "Racing Stripes" is a limp motion picture that mixes moments of predictable drama—Stripes is shattered to discover he isn't a horse, Channing spars with her dad over letting her race—with slapstick that was fraught with cobwebs and corniness years ago. The most annoying offenders are Buzz (voiced by Steve Harvey) and Scuzz (voiced by David Spade), wisecracking flies who fart, drop into mounds of poop, and argue with each other when they aren't singing dim variations on overplayed songs like "Who Let the Dogs Out?" and "Ebony and Ivory." A little of these two goes a long way, and a lot of them is overkill, destroying the dramatic conflict in the central storyline every time the camera switches to their inane shenanigans. If "Racing Stripes" proves one thing, it is that flies, more than any other animal or insect, cannot be made into cuddly family film characters. Snoop Dogg (2004's "Starsky & Hutch") is a bit more tolerable as the voice of a terminally lazy, slang-using hound dog, but, with just three lines of dialogue in three separate scenes, no less thankless.

As Stripes fights the adversity that comes with being different from everyone else and stays true to his passion— worthwhile morals—the list of cliches are checked off one by one. Stripes develops a love interest in kind mare Sandy (voiced by Mandy Moore). After training and getting really good, Stripes sees all his hard work threatened when Sandy is kidnapped by the overbearing father of Trenton's Pride, Sir Trenton (voiced by Fred Dalton Thompson), who doesn't want him to race in the Kentucky Open. Stripes is aided in his quest by a ragtag group of barnyard friends—goat Franny (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg), grizzled pony Tucker (voiced by Dustin Hoffman), and klutzy duck Goose (voiced by Joe Pantoliano). On the human front, spiteful track owner Clara is spiteful for the sole purpose of being the stereotypical baddie. And, of course, teenager Channing and father Nolan are dealing with the death of a parent and spouse. Out of curiosity, what was the last movie of its type without a dead parent? Either way, it feels just a little creepy when Nolan gives his daughter her mom's old racing uniform, complete with dead mother's name written on it, to wear during the climactic derby. Making sure no stone is left unturned, two original songs pop up by the most typical of movie music crooners, Bryan Adams and Sting.

Bruce Greenwood (2004's "I, Robot") and Hayden Panettiere (2004's "Raising Helen") offer up some truthfulness as father and daughter, but their tale is more often than not sidetracked by the unfunny comic relief of the animals. As the voice of protagonist Stripes, Frankie Muniz (2004's "Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London") is badly miscast. Muniz comes off sounding like a snotty smart-aleck when Stripes should be the lovable underdog, and so this otherwise sweet character is difficult to rally behind. The rest of the recognizable voices are just that—recognizable. They do their jobs, but not to outstanding effect, and in Snoop Dogg's case, cash an ultra-quick, super-easy paycheck.

From the potty-minded comic relief to the training sequences to the concluding big race, the latter of which is admittedly involving and nicely shot, "Racing Stripes" never deviates from the norm of its genre and has but one original idea: Stripes is a zebra who thinks he's a racing horse. Outside of the offbeat species' used to talk—it is never clear whether the animals understand what the humans are saying, but speak English to each other when they are not around—the film is a dull, immobile affair without any tricks up director Frederik Du Chau's and screenwriter David Schmidt's sleeves. Having seen it all before, and in a superior, more charming fashion, the most likely response from viewers will be lackadaisical indifference. Stripes may be quick on his feet, but the early-year dud he has found himself in is anything but.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman