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‘Racing Stripes’

The new Warner Bros. film, which opens nationwide today, centers on a plucky zebra who thinks he’s a race horse. It’s cookie-cutter storytelling—an underdog, a formidable challenge, some unlikely help—but well done.

Disney has long traded on this appealing idea, albeit mostly in animated form. 1995’s “Babe”—which relied on live-action talking animals—furthered the art form, which is on display again in the hilarious and satisfying “Racing Stripes.”

 

The new Warner Bros. film, which opens nationwide today, centers on a plucky zebra who thinks he’s a race horse. It’s cookie-cutter storytelling—an underdog, a formidable challenge, some unlikely help—but well done.

 

The story begins when a baby zebra is accidentally left behind by a traveling circus in Kentucky. The animal is discovered by a farmer, Nolan Walsh (Bruce Greenwood), who takes him home, where he is quickly adopted by the farmer’s daughter, Channing (Hayden Panettiere).

 

Stripes, so named by Channing, quickly adapts to life on the farm under the tutelage of Fanny the goat (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg), Tucker the pony (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) and other farm animals.

 

Stripes, however, doesn’t realize he’s a zebra. He thinks he’s a thoroughbred, just like the ones he sees across the fence at the nearby horse farm. He longs to hit the track and stretch his legs, despite the razzing of the real thoroughbreds.

 

Stripes has heart, but he doesn’t have the right genes or training. The stage is set, though, for a classic showdown on the bluegrass, and the story builds in a predictable but enjoyable way.

 

The technology that makes the animals talk is terrific here as it was in “Babe,” and David F. Schmidt’s script gives the farmyard denizens some doozies (e.g. Fanny to Tucker: “Don’t make me chew open a can of pony whup.”).

 

Hoffman and Goldberg play nicely off each other, as do Steve Harvey and David Spade as the flies Buzz and Scuzz. The latter duo is chiefly responsible for the cruder elements of the story, which give the movie a PG rating.

 

Laced throughout are product placements for Auto Zone and Kodak, as well as references to other movies like “Chicken Run” and “Field of Dreams.” The pop culture payoffs will keep most adults tuned in.

 

“Racing Stripes” emphasizes familiar themes, like “Nothing good ever comes easy,” as Tucker tells Stripes. The filmmakers also pit technology against ingenuity—as in how the thoroughbreds use the latest gadgetry to improve performance while Stripes must rely on Farmer Nolan’s earthy, makeshift training tools.

 

If that sounds a bit like “Rocky IV,” well, it is. But who better to turn to for an underdog paradigm than the Italian Stallion himself …

 

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

 

MPAA Rating: PG for mild crude humor and some language. Reviewer’s Note:

Director: Frederik du Chau

Writer: David F. Schmidt

Cast: Nolan Walsh: Bruce Greenwood; Channing Walsh: Hayden Panettiere; Woodzie: M. Emmet Walsh; Clara Dalrymple: Wendie Malick; Voice of Stripes: Frankie Muniz; Voice of Sandy: Mandy Moore; Voice of Tucker: Dustin Hoffman; Voice of Franny: Whoopi Goldberg; Voice of Scuzz: David Spade; Voice of Buzz: Steve Harvey; Voice of Lightning: Snoop Dogg; Voice of Goose: Joe Pantoliano; Voice of Reggie: Jeff Foxworthy.

 

The movie’s official Web site is here.