by Philip Murphy
“Why won’t he let them play with me?” asks Stripes, a young zebra, (voiced by Frankie Muniz) peering through a fence at some sleek young thoroughbreds.
“You’re just different,” answers a beautiful filly (voiced by Mandy Moore), “and for some horses different is scary.”
Such is the lot of Stripes, who has been raised by renowned Kentucky horse trainer Nolan Walsh (Bruce Greenwood) and his daughter Channing (Hayden Panettiere) after he was abandoned by a circus in a rainstorm. Sweet-natured Stripes gets along well with his owners and all their other animals: a cranky Shetland pony named Tucker (voiced by Dustin Hoffman); Franny, a wise goat (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg); a goofy rooster (voiced by Jeff Foxworthy); and a paranoid pelican (voiced by Joe Pantoliano) who’s on the lam from his mob cronies in Jersey.
But Stripes has a problem. He thinks he’s a racehorse and can’t figure out why no one else agrees with him, until eventually they come around to his way of thinking. However, Clara Dalrymple (Wendy Malick), the rich and mean queen of the local racing scene, is immune to Stripes’ charm, so she and her snobbish stable of horses take every opportunity to make Stripes feel as inferior as possible. Until one day, Stripes’ pluck and determination finally convince his famous owner to come out of retirement and train him for a race against Ms. Dalrymple’s prize thoroughbreds.
This is a sweet family film that will mainly appeal to kids 10 and under, but has an excellent cast and enough production value that adults can enjoy it too. It feels a bit like Babe meets Seabiscuit, with its combo of talking animals and live action. Though not in the same league with either of those films, the top-notch cast of live actors and voice talent along with some amazing animals and a lot of effort from the animal wranglers and special effects team make it work. Bruce Greenwood and Wendy Malick are particularly good as the former colleagues (Nolan used to train Ms. Dalrymple’s champions) and now rivals, whose styles never quite meshed. And Hayden Panettiere is very appealing as the girl whose dreams of being a jockey coincide with Stripes’ dreams of being a champion racehorse. The movie is rated PG for some mildly crude humor and some language.
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Philip Murphy covers family-oriented films for United Parenting Publications.
by Philip Murphy