RACING STRIPES is such a sweet, good-hearted film that one wishes that one could like it more. As it is, its a passable entertainment for kids that is hobbled badly by a formulaic plot and talking animals that, for the most part, dont have anything interesting to say.
The Stripes of the title, voiced with eager earnestness by Frankie Muniz, was separated from his circus home as a baby and taken in by Nolan Walsh (Bruce Greenwood), an ex-horse trainer who took up farming after a racing accident killed his wife. That hasnt deterred Channing (Hayden Panettiere), his 16-year-old daughter from the love of the game, and when Stripes shows an interest in racing, shes game to give it a try despite paternal disapproval and the amused incredulity of everyone else.
Greenwood has just the right dash of melancholy to Panettieres boisterous determination. Their relationship, each coming around slowly to really understand the other is the best thing in the film, investing some real emotion and genuine warmth into the proceedings. If it had been the movies focus, we might be talking minor classic here. As it is, the gaggle of screenwriters (never a good sign) hedged that bet with a barnyard full of celebrities voicing the films theme, always believe in yourself and follow your dream. I may be overestimating a bit, but I think kids would have been able to pick up on that message with the human story without having the animals drive the moral home pretty much every three minutes towards the end. Especially considering the hackneyed and virtually mirthless humor the creatures attempt to employ. As for those animals, a chicken-hearted mob pelican named Goose (voiced by Joe Pantoliano) never clicked, and the rooster (Jeff Foxworthy), the goat (Whoopi Goldberg), blond-bombshell mare (Mandy Moore) who dazzles Stripes and the real race horses (Joshua Jackson and Michael Rosenbaum) who make fun of him are strictly generic, as is the humor attempted by Steve Harvey and David Spade as wise-cracking horse-flies who add the poop and snot moments. Only Tucker (voiced by Dustin Hoffman), a soulful Shetland pony who knows a thing or two about training race horses is worth remembering. Completely forgettable, too, is Wendie Malick as a one-dimensionally evil horse-trainer sporting broad-brimmed hats who has it in for Stripes and the Walshes.
Only little kids will find any surprises in the plot, but there are worse places for them to learn the inside workings of a formula film than with RACING STRIPES. Yet the films PG rating comes from a very dark sequence, literally and figuratively, where the race horses gang up on Stripes. At least director Frederick Du Chau comes into his own with the final, climactic race, generating some real tension as horse meets zebra at the Kentucky Open. Its hard not to get caught up in it. Almost as hard as it is to forgive the requisite sappy pop song inserted halfway through and screenwriters who botched their job.