Racing Stripes Review
Racing Stripes reinvents Rocky in the style of Babe. It’s opening scene finds the eponymous Stripes, a zebra voiced by Frankie Muniz, mistakenly abandoned by the circus and rescued by friendly local farmer (and ex-horse trainer) Bruce Greenwood. Before his daughter can say “can we keep him, daddy?” it’s three years later and Stripes has grown up to be an aspiring racehorse. The trouble is he doesn’t realise he’s a zebra whilst the human population laughs off the idea that such an animal could compete on the Kentucky racing circuit.
In this respect Racing Stripes can be viewed as two separate films. On the one hand we have the ‘real life’ drama involving the father-daughter relationship and his old employee-cum-rival, the nasty Wendie Malick (“she doesn’t see beauty… she sees business”). On the other there’s the mini-society of animals, each voiced by a star name (from Dustin Hoffman to Snoop Dogg), who provide the film with a more childish side courtesy of their cute one-liners and toilet humour. The two strands only meet in narrative terms during the final act in which both must work together in order for Stripes to have his climactic victory.
In other ways, however, these two elements are clearly of a piece. The simple anthropomorphism of the latter is echoed in the two-dimensional human characterisation: Greenwood provides single-parent solidity in a checked shirt; Malick acts like a cut-price Cruella DeVil; plus there’s M. Emmet Walsh as the kind of jovial, warm-hearted old timer whom Wilfred Brimley had once made his own. Moreover, there’s a heavy sense of familiarity to both strands with the central Rocky -style plotting (there’s even a training montage straight out of Rocky IV) mingling with steals from Toy Story - the talking animals equalling the talking toys, of course, as well as the Buzz Lightyear identity crisis sub-plot being ripped off wholesale, albeit without the existentialist pangs. And then, perhaps most importantly, there is the clear indication that this is wholeheartedly – and exclusively – a film for children.
Indeed, such a factor makes it difficult to criticise Racing Stripes too harshly as from this perspective it has a number of admirable qualities. In its own roundabout way it’s clearly addressing such themes as racism and acceptance (Stripes is from “the wrong side of the fence”) and doing so with sufficient conviction. It’s also a well-crafted, if never exceptional piece of filmmaking. Director Frederick Du Chau keeps things simple and the special effects are ably handled without being too intrusive. Plus there’s a fine collection of actors providing either a vocal or physical presence; even Hayden Panettiere, as Greenwood’s daughter, has more in common with Julia Stiles, say, than your average Hollywood moppet.
Yet whilst kids will find this a welcome piece of entertainment, there is very little to keep adults fully engaged. A number of the voice talents appear to be emulating the styles of Robin Williams’ and Eddie Murphy’s efforts for Aladdin and the Shrek movies respectively, yet there’s little in the screenplay to allow them such sparks. We do get Joe Pantoliano as a Mafioso pelican, which should be a promising idea, but sadly he’s allowed only the most obvious of Godfather/Scarface gags. In this respect, Racing Stripes gains only a five out of 10 rating, though younger members of the audience should add another two.
As a new release, Racing Stripes looks expectedly fine on disc. The picture quality is technically sound, with the requisite clarity and colour levels, and has also been treated to an anamorphic transfer (at a ratio of 1.78:1). Indeed, there are no problems to speak of and the same is true for the soundtrack. The disc provides a fine DD5.1 offering, again with the expected clarity and cleanliness. Moreover, the subtleties of the mix are ably captured – the combination of diegetic sounds, post-synched vocal work and various animal noises plus the score – meaning that once again flaws are not forthcoming.
Further enhancing the disc’s value from a child’s perspective is the wealth of extras, the majority being aimed in their direction. Even Frederick Du Chau’s commentary doesn’t feel as though it’s intended solely for adult years courtesy of its naïve charm (he starts by pointing out it’s him very first commentary) and concentration on the elements which kids will find more interesting, namely anything to do with the animals. Thus we get a discussion of their training, the use of visual effects and constant reassurances that none were harmed or mistreated during Racing Stripes’ production. The only problem this produces is a certain crossover with the information divulged in two of the featurettes, ‘How to Make Animals Talk’ and ‘Animal Acting 101’. Both of these pieces cover their respective areas in a brisk and informative, but uncomplicated manner and do so with plenty of illustrations as well as interviews from the relevant crew members alongside the likes of Hoffman and Whoopi Goldberg. The third featurette, however, is something of a disappointment. Entitled ‘The Music of Racing Stripes’ is proves an ungainly mixture of music video, interviews (with Sting and Bryan Adams) and theatrical trailer (which also finds itself amongst the extras).
Also for the kids are a pair of interactive offerings, one being a game, the other a comic book. Both are expectedly lightweight, but do prove easy to navigate, whilst the latter may provoke additional interest as it fills in the film’s backstory.
Rounding of the extras package are a series of deleted and alternative scenes. Only the alternate ending (actually an additional scene to follow the film’s final moments) has anything of substance as the other pieces offer only mere seconds of additional gags and snatches of dialogue. Also present is a piece entitled ‘Outtakes’, though the name seems a little confused as it compiles rough digital work, extended scenes and various characters’ best bits into a barely cohesive whole.
Unlike the main feature, all extras are without optional subtitles.
5 out of 10
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