U.S. Release Date: January 14, 2005
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Director: Frederik Du Chau, Frederik Du Chou
Writer: Kirk De Micco (story)
Producer: Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove
Composer: Mark Isham
Cast: Michael Clarke Duncan (Voice), Frankie Muniz (Voice), Mandy Moore (Voice), Hayden Panettiere, Bruce Greenwood, Snoop Dogg (Voice), Steve Harvey, David Spade (Voice), Dustin Hoffman (Voice)
Running Time: 1 hour and 24 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG (mild crude humor and some language)

Nice Station Zebra
by Scott Holleran

To borrow a favorite line from Warner Bros.' latest children's movie, Racing Stripes earns its keep. The live action, talking animal picture is crisp and clean, with good characters in a fun, light plot about self-esteem. Its flimsy premise, a zebra thinks he's a racehorse, is enhanced by writer David Schmidt's innocent script, which adheres to virtues such as independence and personal responsibility through a band of farm animals that would be right at home alongside Charlotte's Web.

Directed by Frederik Du Chau (Quest for Camelot), Racing Stripes is the story of a zebra (voiced mostly by Frankie Muniz), who is accidentally left behind by the circus during a hasty departure during a Kentucky rainstorm. Farmer Walsh (Bruce Greenwood) rescues him from the middle of the road and lets his daughter (Hayden Panettiere) care for him. Dad and his spunky kid should have attempted to discover who owns the exotic zebra, though that's about the only ethical lapse in the movie.

Stripes, as he is dubbed, is no ordinary zebra. He looks across the pasture to an adjacent thoroughbred farm and decides he wants to race. It's simply not done, the purebreds sniff, led by a strikingly handsome horse voiced by Fred Dalton Thompson, and this black and white Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is rejected and ridiculed.

Not everyone hates him for being different. A feisty filly (Mandy Moore) sticks her neck out for him, and Whoopi Goldberg's goat and Dustin Hoffman's pony support his efforts to race around the track, with the pony taking the training reins. Joe Pantoliano's pelican gets some funny lines as a bird on the lam from the mob, but the humor is likely to be lost on kids. The human cast includes longtime actor M. Emmet Walsh as a racetrack has-been and Wendie Malick as a spiteful horse breeder who is more interested in impressing others than in horseracing.

Screenwriter Schmidt provides each character with a motivation that dovetails to Stripes' ability to base self-esteem on a realistic estimate of his worth, not on the opinions of others. Too many subplots and characters—especially two hip-hop horseflies (Steve Harvey and David Spade) named Buzz and Scuzz—and too much time with the Walshes, a motherless family dealing with the risks of riding, are minor strikes against Racing Stripes, which leaves kids moved by a good story. By the time Stripes is saddled for the big day, they'll be rooting for the right reasons.

A few crude jokes fall flat and a pop song distracts from Mark Isham's moving score, but with an exciting goal—racing in the fictional Kentucky Open—several friendly characters, human and animal, and a steady pace, it's a winner. Racing Stripes is pure popcorn; so don't expect overindulged children who laugh at Hollywood insider jokes to go for this happy tale, which is exactly why they ought to see it. Except for the pop-culture dung and pinprick plot holes, probably the result of too many stable hands, Racing Stripes is black and white and a good time for the whole family.

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