Racing Stripes

on January 14, 2005 by Kim Williamson
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There are films, and then there are movies; the former mean, the latter entertain. One is positive from the first moment of "Racing Stripes" that it's a movie: Among rain and lightning on a dark and stormy night, a group of circus wagons tries to traverse mucky roads -- and all the traveling performers are wearing their costumes. However, that scene fits just fine in a movie made for younger audiences, who won't give that bit of irreality a thought -- and who likely are the only attendees who'll be able to believe that a zebra could be trained to compete against thoroughbred racehorses, and win. (If prompted by predator, a zebra is capable of a 40-mph burst over a short distance; after a mile at the Kentucky Derby, Secretariat was doing just under 50.)

But "Racing Stripes," conceived by two of the movie's behind-the-scenes principals while betting the ponies at a racetrack (the original halfbreed horse who wanted to race the thoroughbreds later became the more visually arresting zebra character), is more of a construction than a creation and isn't meant to be overthought. It's meant to be enjoyed and, thanks to calm direction by Frederick Du Chau ("Quest for Camelot") and especially to a well-made script by first-time screenwriter David F. Schmidt, who perhaps calls on his pro baseball career of decades past to nicely capture the feel of sports competition, "Racing Stripes" is quite enjoyable. Also aiding matters is a warm turn by Bruce Greenwood ("Thirteen Days") as the one-time trainer of track champions who retired to farming after his wife died in a riding accident and is now raising a young teenaged girl (Hayden Panettiere, vastly pretty but insufficiently petite for the sport of horse-racing), who -- against her father's fearing wishes -- dreams of being a jockey like her mother. Told alongside that story, connecting but never melding, is the tale of Stripes, a baby zebra lost by the circus who, raised by father and daughter and seeing thoroughbreds on the next property, grows up wanting to be a racehorse just like them. In the end, the wishes of the girl and her zebra come true together. Of course.

TV actress Wendie Malick as a horse breeder by way of Cruella De Vil and M. Emmet Walsh as a wizened bettor who sees gold in the black and white of Stripes bring character color to the proceedings. More color comes from the "Babe"-like voicings of various animals, including Frankie Muniz as Stripes, Dustin Hoffman as a little shetland who trains racehorses, Mandy Moore as Stripes' filly girlfriend, Whoopi Goldberg as a wise goat, Joe Pantoliano as a former Mafia pelican, and David Spade as a jive-talking fly. As a sleepy bloodhound, Snoop Dogg has three lines, at least one of them understandable. Standing in for the venerable Kentucky Downs, the racetrack constructed for the movie never looks like more than something one might see at a regional fair, but the cinematography by David Eggby ("Scooby-Doo") beautifully captures the air and light of the South African surroundings standing in for an American landscape. Starring Bruce Greenwood, Hayden Panettiere, Wendie Malick and M Emmet Walsh. Voices by Frankie Muniz, Dustin Hoffman, Whoopi Goldberg, Joe Pantoliano, Mandy Moore, David Spade and Steve Harvey. Directed by Frederick Du Chau. Written by David F. Schmidt. Produced by Andrew A. Kosove, Broderick Johnson, Ed McDonnell and Lloyd Phillips. A Warner Bros. release. Family/Drama. Rated PG for mild crude humor and some language. Running time: 101 min

Tags: Bruce Greenwood, Hayden Panettiere, Wendie Malick and M Emmet Walsh, Frankie Muniz, Dustin Hoffman, Whoopi Goldberg, Joe Pantoliano, Mandy Moore, David Spade and Steve Harvey, Directed by Frederick Du Chau, Written by David F. Schmidt, Produced by Andrew A. Kosove, Broderick Johnson, Ed McDonnell and Lloyd Phillips, Warner Bros, Family
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