In the same vein as that movie about a talking pig who thinks he's a sheep dog, Racing Stripes is another cornball family comedy about a talking zebra who thinks he's a Kentucky racing thoroughbred. While not nearly as endearing as the Oscar-winning Babe, Stripes still has its moments--thanks to a neurotic gangster pelican and a couple of wisecracking horseflies. Just stay with me here.
Nolan Walsh (Bruce Greenwood), once a champion thoroughbred trainer and now a mild-mannered Kentucky farmer, rescues an abandoned baby zebra and takes him home to his young daughter Channing (Hayden Panettiere). Stripes (voiced by Frankie Muniz), as the adoring Channing calls him, grows up on the farm with its misfit troupe of barnyard residents. They include the cantankerous but wise Tucker (voiced by Dustin Hoffman), a Shetland pony; Franny (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg), a motherly old goat who keeps the farm in line; Goose (voiced by Joe Pantoliano), a skittish hit pelican who's hiding out from Jersey thugs after taking out the wrong bird; and Buzz (voiced by Steve Harvey) and Scuzz (voiced by David Spade), two horseflies with attitude--and an affinity for poop. But Stripes isn't cut out for farm life. Instead, he has his sights set on the neighboring racetrack with hopes of running in the race himself--even if he isn't exactly a horse. With a little help from his human and farm animal friends, he finally gets his chance. And loses! Oh, I'm just kidding.
Although the human actors do an adequate job maintaining the core emotional element of the film, especially the sweet-cheeked Panettiere (Raising Helen), it's the animal characters that keep Racing Stripes entertaining. Muniz is earnest enough as the enthusiastic Stripes, while the sugary Mandy Moore voices his love interest Sandy, a local show jumper horse. Veterans Hoffman, who finds his inner horse as the crabby Tucker, and Goldberg, who does the maternal goat thing very well, both handle their animal chores with aplomb. The ever-country hick Jeff Foxworthy and the lackadaisical Snoop Dogg also make vocal appearances as a none-too-bright rooster (are there any other kind?) and lazy bloodhound, respectively. But it's Joey Pants as Goose, the incompetent gangster pelican on the lam, and Spade and Harvey as the quippy, espresso-lovin', dung-wallowing horseflies, who steal the show.
They always say its hardest to work with animals and children, so director Frederik Du Chau (Quest for Camelot) really had his work cut out for him working with real zebras, something which has never really been attempted before because of the animal's flighty temperament. Apparently, a zebra's nature is rooted in a fight-or-flight response, stemming from the fact they are chased by predators in the wild. Makes sense, but training them to race around a track? Sounds like a nightmare shoot. Plus, Stripes was played by no less than eight different ''adolescent'' zebras. Yikes. Du Chau pulls it off, however. You're sitting there with the best of them, cheering our hero on as he runs his big race, oblivious to how they made it all happen. Overall, it's just too bad that, unlike its cousin Babe, Racing Stripes has to go for the same tired and cheesy formula of an underdog proving himself, rather than creating a tender story of a zebra making his way on a Kentucky horse farm.
Save for a few hilarious performances by the most unlikely of farm animals, Racing Stripes is pretty standard family fare without too many charming moments.