Racing zebra? If you say "horsefeathers," pass
Seattle Times movie critic
Can a zebra outrun a trained racehorse, reconcile a girl to the memory of her dead mother and organize a gaggle of talking barnyard animals into a smoothly functioning team? In the world of "Racing Stripes," a bland but likable kids' movie directed by Frederik Du Chau, the answer is "Sure, why not?"
The zebra, a circus animal abandoned on a rainy night in the film's prologue, is named Stripes, and his owner, the rather more creatively named Channing (sweet-faced teen actor Hayden Panettiere), believes in him and his racing ability. So, when a standard-issue old coot (M. Emmet Walsh) at the nearby racetrack offers to sponsor Stripes in The Big Race, Channing talks her dad (Bruce Greenwood) into training the creature at their farm.
While the horses at the track train with treadmills, computers and various gimmicks such as a "sauna suit," Stripes learns the ropes on a makeshift track in a cornfield, with a gate made from what looks to have once been an outhouse. This means, of course, that he and his trainers are the good guys. And does Stripes win the race? If you know the answer to that question, you're too old for this movie. (For the record, my kindergarten-age companion was breathless throughout the race and loved the whole thing.)
"Racing Stripes" mingles live action with animation, in the form of a pair of extremely annoying flies (voiced by Steve Harvey and David Spade) who keep appearing in the movie, like clockwork, to deliver poop jokes. (Grown-up audience members may find themselves wishing for a swatter.) And while the animals talk, this is no "Babe" — the CGI movement of their mouths is awkward and the celebrity voices (which include a slumming Dustin Hoffman) distracting.
Nonetheless, it's all cute as a button, and the array of zebras playing Stripes show flashes of star quality, not to mention a genuine elegance. (This movie gives you plenty of time to ponder the fact that a zebra is like a horse in a designer outfit.) Among the farm animals, though, I must confess to being rather partial to a cranky Shetland pony, voiced by Hoffman and confidently played by equine actors named Austin Powers, Mini-Me and Ben Hur.
And there's something rather lovable about the fact that, at one of the movie's more crucial dramatic moment, Channing's dad, clearly impaled on the horns of a dilemma, somewhat randomly goes into the barn. He's there, apparently, to talk over his problems with the goat (played by animals named Jazz, Rapper and Hip Hop) or the pelican (enacted by one Mr. Penelican). After spending 90 minutes with these creatures, you conclude that one could do far worse.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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