There’s a Zebra Head in my G-Rated Movie
A Cute Zebra Competes with Horses and Outside Humor
By Cole Smithey
There's something oddly satisfying about seeing a notoriously disobedient wild animal like a zebra racing alongside thoroughbred racing horses. For parents of the four to ten- year-old children this talking-animal picture is geared toward, that spectacle alone should provide sufficient entertainment value. "Racing Stripes" is a guileless kiddie movie marred by brief dollops of outré humor. Rural Kentucky is the backdrop against which former horse trainer Nolan Walsh (Bruce Nolan - "Thirteen Days") and his pretty teenaged daughter Channing (Hayden Panettiere) discover and rescue a baby zebra left behind by a traveling circus.
Once in the comfort of the Walsh family farm, Stripes-the-zebra (voiced by Frankie Muniz) strikes up a talky relationship with his farm animal cohabitants--as voiced by such audience-pleasers as Dustin Hoffman, Whoopi Goldberg, Snoop Dogg, and Mandy Moore. All the action leads to a big race at the Kentucky Open between Stripes and giant thoroughbreds. In the old days this would have been a "G-rated" movie, but screenwriter David Schmidt’s scatological and verbal references to violence unjustly puts the piece into PG territory.
"Racing Stripes" is an example of Hollywood’s inability to provide G-rated fare in a marketplace opposed to content solely for children. There seems to be some fear of losing an audience of slightly older kids who might not be satisfied without a few scatological references. You can practically hear scripter David Schmidt second guessing how flat his dialogue might fall if he didn’t have a couple of CGI flies (voiced by Steve Harvey and David Spade) wallowing around in soppy horse manure. It’s a gross-out scene that snaps the audience out of the movie and places them on a decidedly squishy brown planet for a few painful seconds.
Schmidt’s obligatory addition of a trash-talking Mafioso goose (voiced by Joe Pantoliano) drags the movie beneath its otherwise G-rated category every time the goose opens his mouth to brag about bumping off some unknown character from a story different than the one we’re watching. Since when did mob characters become cutesy icons that six-year-olds should be happy to imagine cutting off horse heads? The hit-man goose comes to the movie like an alien jester sent to break up the flow of an otherwise well-guided narrative.
The greatest strength of "Racing Stripes" is in the sound casting of Bruce Nolan and Hayden Panettiere as a charismatic father/daughter duo who live a farm-based American lifestyle that is all but extinct. Bruce Nolan perfectly represents a brooding husband/father broken by the tragic loss of his wife to a riding accident, and Hayden Panettiere is that rare girl who tames her dreams with unorthodox methods.
Stripes-the-zebra symbolizes a common dream of success that our idyllic father and daughter share. For as much as the film revolves around the undeveloped personality of a talking zebra intent on winning a race against his equine neighbors, the animal signifies a specific brand of individual freedom that kids will automatically identify with. "Racing Stripes" is an uncomplicated and charming children’s movie that suffers mildly from brief diversions of inappropriate humor.
Rated PG. 101 mins.
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