Racing Stripes (2005) / Comedy-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG for crude humor and some language
Running Time: 94 min.
Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Hayden Panettiere, Wendy Malick, M. Emmet Walsh, plus the voices of Frankie Muniz, Dustin Hoffman, Whoopi Goldberg, Mandy Moore, Joe Pantoliano, Joshua Jackson, Jeff Foxworthy, Steve Harvey, David Spade, Michael Clarke Duncan, Snoop Dogg, Michael Rosenbaum, and Fred Dalton Thompson
Director: Frederik Du Chau
Screenplay: David Schmidt
Marred by potty humor and an overall tackiness, Racing Stripes would be a modestly cute kids film, if only it could have avoided going for easy (and cheesy) laughs. Part of the reason the film comes off as cartoonish may likely reside in the fact that director Frederik Du Chau started off in cartoons, as a storyboard artist for the legendary Chuck Jones, of Looney Tunes fame. Perhaps in the world of cartoons, such inanities would seem commonplace, but smack-dab in the middle of a family film, there is just an embarrassing quality to them that doesn’t allow us to go with the natural flow of things. Babe proved talking animal films can work, but Racing Stripes only goes to show that without a good story and rich characterizations, you’ll end up like the racehorses -- running around in circles.
When a baby zebra is left behind in rural Kentucky by a traveling circus, Nolan Walsh (Greenwood, I Robot), a local farmer, ends up adopting it raising it as one of his own animals, with help from his spunky daughter, Channing (Panettiere, Remember the TItans), who promptly dubs the horse with a name -- Stripes. Stripes’ dream is to become a champion racehorse, so he can race with the big horses down at the nearby racetrack. Channing can sense Stripes’ desire, and soon indulges in the horseracing fantasy, but her disapproving father won’t allow it. Only when provoked by the evil racehorse owner, Clara Dalrymple (Malick), is there any motivation for Nolan to give Channing the green light, and compete with the fastest horses in the country.
Racing Stripes is a fairly typical kids flick, with underlying messages of practicing tolerance for those who are different, and even celebrating diversity. It’s well-meaning, innocuous stuff in that vein, although I could easily cite dozens of better films to come out in recent years with the same message without the high overhead this one carries.
Before I get to the reasons why Racing Stripes falls short, I do have to compliment the special effects team for doing some amazing work in making the animals look and move in a completely believable fashion when talking. There is also an impressive array of celebrities who’ve lent their voices to the movie, each one well suited to the respective animal character they portray. There’s no skimping here.
Alas, all of the effort is for naught, as they are surrounded by derivative ideas and wafer-thin characterizations. Despite this, it could still have been a passably cute time-killer if not for the constant need to bring in crude humor, mostly in the form of a flatulent fly and a poop-happy pelican. As if the sight of a speedy zebra weren’t silly enough, must we be treated to ugly CGI flies farting bubbles and chowing down on feces? I haven’t even mentioned the terrible rap songs and cornball gags thrown out willy-nilly for the sake of giving the least mature in the audience some cheap laughs. In the middle of this would-be inspirational film, it's all so depressing to endure.
The aforementioned technical quality, as well as the amiable voice-work, does keep this one from sinking right to the bottom of the barrel, but shouldn’t we expect more from a movie that pooled so many talented people together in the cause to inspire children to get along with one another? Clichés, stereotypes and toilet humor are all this has to offer the future generation. That they sugarcoat it with a touch of morality seems a scant consolation for inept storytelling.
©2005 Vince Leo