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Friday Flicks: ‘Racing Stripes’

HN movie critic Amanda Ronan has a remarkably high tolerance for silly, overwrought horse movies–but this one tested her patience. (Maybe because it’s a silly, overwrought “zebra” movie?)

From Amanda:

Racing Stripes (2005), starring Hayden Panettiere tells us the story of a zebra who dreams of being a champion Thoroughbred racehorse.

The movie opens in the middle of a raging thunderstorm.  A circus, struggling to pack up and hit the road, accidentally leaves behind a baby zebra.  Now, I’m not usually a sucker for baby animals, but this little zebra is darling in his wicker basket and blanket.

Luckily for our little zebra, a good-hearted samaritan finds him in the road and takes him home.  We soon find out the samaritan’s name is Nolan Walsh, a semi-successful, ex-racehorse trainer turned corn farmer.  He brings the zebra home, where it is immediately lavished with attention by his daughter, Channing.  Channing names him Stripes.

The zebra then meets the CGI-enhanced Walsh menagerie, including a maternal goat (Whoopi Goldberg), a cagey Shetland pony (Dustin Hoffman), a rooster (Jeff Foxworthy), and an old hound dog (Snoop Dogg)… not to mention the flies and pelican that speak as well.

Everything changes for Stripes when he watches his first horse race… conveniently there is a gorgeous race track just down the hill so Stripes can watch everyday.

We are then whisked away to “Three Years Later,” where Stripes spends his days racing the mail trucks.

On the other side of the fence boards, we are introduced to Arabian show jumper Sandy (Mandy Moore), Trenton’s Pride (Joshua Jackson) and cohorts of other snooty Thoroughbreds.  Trenton’s Pride dares Stripes to go to the Blue Moon Races, a late-night drag style race, organized by a Clydesdale and watched by all the horses in the area.  It’s the perfect proving grounds for Stripes.

Unfortunately, Stripes misses the turn, falls down and is horribly embarrassed.  But Stripes doesn’t give up.  In fact, he’s more determined than ever to become a champion racer.  After hiring the Jersey Shore, gangster pelican to “take out” Channing’s dirt bike and the dad’s truck, Stripes leaves Channing no choice but to ride him… otherwise she’ll be late for work… did I mention she works at the racetrack?

Undeterred by the fact that Stripes has never had a saddle on his back, much less a rider, Channing sets out on a beautiful trail ride.

OK… now this is where this movie gets a little silly.  Sure, we’ve got a zebra that thinks he’s a racehorse.  Sure, we’ve got a menagerie of animals that can talk.  Sure, this girl just saddled up an unbroken zebra and set off on a gallop across the countryside for their first ride.  All of that I can believe…

But now Channing believes this little zebra has what it takes to be a racehorse as well.  Not only that, but she somehow manages to get him in a time trial the very next day.

I’m also pretty sure that the filmmakers painted a small pony to look like a zebra, because all of a sudden the animal was moving TOTALLY different.  Anyway…let’s try and carry on…

After a bad break from the gate, the time trial is going well until Stripes gets spooked and Channing bites the dust.  The manure really hits the box fan at this point.  One, we learn that Channing’s jockey mother died on the track and that is why her father retired from training.  Two, Stripes finally realizes he is in fact a zebra… not a racehorse.  Third, the nemesis of the movie, Ms. Dalrymple, lays down the gauntlet by formally inviting Stripes to enter the “Big Race” against her horse, Trenton’s Pride.

After a tearful plea from Channing and a carefully planned intervention by the barn animals, dear old Dad decides to help train Stripes for the race.  With a galloping track cut in the corn, and a gate made from outhouses, the odd team sets to work.

Will Stripes beat Trenton’s Pride and reign victorious on race day?  You’ll just have to watch and see!

This movie wasn’t my favorite.  First off, I’ve never been a fan of CGI-animated talking animals.  I found the “mouths” of the animals very distracting.  I guess I prefer the internal monologues via Black Beauty or Warhorse.  Second, some of the subplot was beyond ridiculous.  Why would Sir Trenton, Trenton’s Pride’s sire, be so angry and vengeful?  Why did Stripes have to awkwardly fall in love with Sandy, the Arabian showjumper?  Why did Goose, the pelican, have to be a gangster exiled from New Jersey for fear of being whacked?  And WHAT was with the horse-style nighttime street racing?!?  Do all these animals just wander around the community at their leisure?

On the upside, the movie taught a good message (albeit forced) that you should be proud of who you are and what you accomplish.  There were also a few very funny lines and, despite myself, I cracked a smile once or twice.

My four year old daughter, on the other hand, LOVED the movie.  She was giggling hysterically at the antics of the barn animals and was literally jumping up and down, screaming at the top of her lungs in support of Stripes during the final race.

Mostly for the 3 – 7 year old age group, I give Racing Stripes 2 ½ Golden (or should they be black and white?) Horseshoes.

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