Ten years ago, the talking animal effects of “Babe” were eye opening. Today they’re so old hat that no-one cares anymore, yet studios still spawn weaker and weaker clones with each passing year. Now comes “Racing Stripes”, a tired retread of the formula that stands out only for its use of a zebra and a surprisingly large and high profile celebrity voice cast.
Combining the same CG, real animals & animatronics technique used in “Babe”, director Frederik Du Chau applies it to this tale of a family with a father reluctant to let his little girl ride a zebra in a horse race because his wife died from falling off a horse – it’s a reasoning that’s never properly explained or mined for any real drama. Not helping are the all too bland human caricatures such as Wendy Malick’s almost moustache twirlingly over the top villainess to Bruce Greenwood’s rather flat father figure.
The script mixes story lines in the human and animal worlds, although they never sit comfortably together. As expected, the animals easily win out in terms of being the most interesting of the two. Hoffman as a Shetland pony mentor and Joe Pantoliano as a pelican hiding out from the mob rule the roost with the more interesting main characters, Goldberg has a few laughs, whilst Steve Harvey & David Spade as two flies bring the humour down a level – although at least they are trying to be funny. On the flipside Frankie Muniz and Mandy Moore are utterly flat as Stripes and his potential love interest.
Surprisingly strong is the racing scenes, convincingly mixing horses and the zebra racing together and the young Pantierre riding amidst the ultra-violent jockeys. Pacing is relatively fast with a good blending of action and quieter scenes. The locations and production values are solid. Ok so it may be a little silly for much of its runtime, nevertheless there’s nothing new or interesting enough here to warrant this as a good family film – indeed the use of such star power almost seems like a waste. Fun for the pre-teens maybe but that’s about it.