Film — Racing Stripes (PG)

Racing Stripes (PG)

by Amy Diaz

A pony and a goat teach you to be all you can be while a couple of flies make poop jokes in the live-action talking animal movie Racing Stripes.

While I realize that it is, apparently, an important part of modern female development, I myself never went through the horse stage of girlhood. I did, at times, long for a cat or dog or hamster (none of which ever had a chance at a place in our family — my mother is both extremely fond of cleanliness and a master at predicting the attention span of children). But pony? Only if the words My Little appeared in front of it and only for about the first six months of that fad. And horses? I was always more of a sports-car girl. While my friends dreamed up names for the perfect white stallion, I tried to calculate exactly how many hours of minimum-wage work would equal the price of a gently-used red Miata. So that whole National Velvet lust thing is completely over my non-riding-helmet-wearing head.

I mention this because for Channing Walsh (Hayden Panettier), the human lead of the show, there is nothing as exciting as saddling up and riding out. Channing also has a spiffy-looking motor-scooter — so while she agonized over whether or not she’d be allowed to canter and gallop, I found myself wondering how much it would cost for such a zippy pair of wheels.

Perhaps if you go into Racing Stripes with a certain level of equine lust, some of the movie’s hokier parts are a bit easier to swallow.

Because, see, Channing Walsh lurves animals with the enthusiasm and irritating persistence shown only by preteen girls in movies about farms and by preteen girls for pictures of animals they’ll never have to clean up after. So when her dad Nolan (Bruce Greenwood) comes home with a big basket full of baby zebra it takes her only a few seconds to cover it in blankets, give it a name (Stripes) and promise to never-ever ask for anything else if she can only keep it, Daddy. Flash forward and the zebra is old enough to be voiced by Frankie Muniz and has aspirations of running in the Kentucky Open, a big horse race that helpfully takes place at a track in the valley below the Walsh farm.

His dreams are not so crazy as it would be if, say, Babe had a similar notion. After all, Stripes is fast — almost as fast as the similarly aged horses (one of whom is voiced by Joshua “Pacey” Jackson) that taunt him from the other side of his fence. Also, he happens to live in the company of Tucker (Dustin Hoffman), a pony who, with Nolan, trained race horses before a riding accident killed Nolan’s wife and his desire to be in the racing business. A few speeches about believing in yourself (some of which are delivered by a goat with Whoopi Goldberg’s voice) spur on the training for Stripes. A harder case is Channing’s attempt to convince Nolan that it’s safe for her to take up in her mother’s footsteps.

Of course parental concern isn’t much of a plot challenge so the movie also throws a pedigree subplot in there with both racehorses (one of which gets the enunciation power of the former Senator from Tennessee, Fred Dalton Thompson) and race officials (Wendie Malick) trying to tell Stripes they don’t like his kind. I find it hard to believe that the head of a race track would want to shun a zebra, and the giant truckload of associated media attention, from a major race but whatever. Plot’s gotta unfold somehow.

Racing Stripes is a perfectly calibrated recipe for a well-baked mediocre. The live action animals with digitally moving mouths, the skilled voices delivering the dialogue, the hopelessly good-for-you lessons about tolerance and self-esteem — it rises just fine and bakes to perfection, but the end result is banana bread. And I don’t like banana bread.

Which is perhaps the best way to describe this movie — a well-executed example of the sort of narrow-reaching children’s movie I don’t particularly enjoy. Unlike The Incredibles, it has no layers. Unlike Shrek, it has no devilish asides for the grown-ups. The humor comes from two flies (voiced by David Spade and Steve Harvey) and is mostly of the poop variety. The exception is when the humor comes from a Jersey pelican-on-the-run named Goose (Joey Pantoliano). He delivers mafia-related jokes deader than Ralphie Cifaretto.

Who’s going to get into this horse tail? Is there really that much money in kids between the ages of 6 and 9?

- Amy Diaz

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