Movie review: 'Racing Stripes

2½ stars (out of 4)

Goodbye, pipsqueak 007—hello, talking zebra!

Frankie Muniz, the 19-year-old star of "Malcolm in the Middle" and the "Agent Cody Banks" franchise, has come out the other side of puberty a little worse for wear. Not as polished as contemporary Hilary "I'm not a girl, not yet a woman" Duff, long past adorable and still of questionable acting chops, Muniz has hit that inescapable period lovingly referred to as the awkward stage.

And in "Racing Stripes," an endearing but predictable celebrity- and joke-packed yakking animal pic about a zebra with an identity crisis, he works it, playing up his shaky voice and inelegent delivery without having to flash a single movie-star smile.

Muniz is the voice of Stripes, a once-abandoned circus zebra who was rescued by former horse-trainer Nolan Walsh (Bruce Greenwood) and now lives on the widower's sorry excuse for a farm.

Stripes' ambition—to race alongside purebred horses at the Kentucky Open (the Derby must have been booked)—runs parallel to that of Nolan's teenage daughter, Channing (Hayden Panettiere, who looks exactly like a shrunken Portia de Rossi). Since his wife's racing-related death, Nolan has banned Channing from competitive riding and boycotted the sport himself.

Kicking around the stables with Stripes are a motley crew of farm animals: the jaded, short-legged Shetland (voiced by short-legged Dustin Hoffman), his longtime goat companion (Whoopi Goldberg), easily frazzled Reggie the rooster (Jeff Foxworthy), a wanted Jersey pelican who goes by the name of Goose (Joe Pantoliano) and an awfully sleepy bloodhound (Snoop D-o-double-g).

Grammy, Oscar and MTV Movie Award winners all on the same farm? And we haven't even gone next door yet!

Walsh's neighbor is the Dalrymple estate, run by ice queen extrordinaire Clara Dalrymple (Wendie Malick) and home to the next great thoroughbred hope and Stripes' nemesis, Trenton's Pride (Joshua Jackson), as well as the object of Stripes' affection, a white filly named Sandy (Mandy Moore).

Everyone's who's anyone is a chatty animal these days.

Lest you think this is the "Ocean's Twelve" of talking horsy comedies, there is actually a sweet story buried under all the in-jokes and self-conscious asides and even a dark side to its triumph-over-adversity setup: Stripes, separated from his family as a baby and not inclined to full-length mirrors, thinks he's a horse. It takes a rather ugly encounter with the Dalrymple dynasty to teach him otherwise. (The film's tagline is "His stripes made him an outcast. His heart made him a hero.")

Then there are Channing and Nolan, who, without the lady of the house, need to do a bit of identity salvaging themselves. Nolan, once a prize trainer, leading Trenton's Pride's father to victory, traded his calling for a life of fear and remorse when his wife died. Forced to confront both his passion and anger by a daughter most intent on exerting her independence on the racetrack, Nolan can either pull back into isolation or champion his animals and child.

As a family film, there's not a whole lot of new territory here—Nolan doesn't disown Channing; Stripes doesn't make a woman out of Sandy; the outsider isn't banished. But the message comes across loud and clear without being preachy or treacly, the voice work is top-notch and the zebras (they used eight to play the teenage Stripes) beautiful.

Listen, it's no surprise these days when a kid flick packs in wit for the parents, and none whatsoever when a horse speaks in perfect English, but let me tell you: That zebra dared to dream, and he got to me.

"Racing Stripes"

Directed by Frederik Du Chau; written by David F. Schmidt, Steven P. Wegner, Kirk DeMicco and Du Chau; photographed by David Eggby; edited by Tom Finan; production designed by Wolf Kroeger; music by Mark Isham; produced by Andrew A. Kosove, Broderick Johnson, Lloyd Phillips and Edward L. McDonnell. An Alcon Entertainment release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:34. MPAA rating: PG (mild crude humor and some language).

Nolan Walsh - Bruce Greenwood
Channing Walsh - Hayden Panettiere
Clara Dalrymple - Wendie Malick
Stripes - voiced by Frankie Muniz
Tucker - voiced by Dustin Hoffman
Franny - voiced by Whoopi Goldberg

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Make a night of it

    Find: • Recommended dining • Recommended bars

Comments
Loading