Mistakenly abandoned in a Midwestern rainstorm, circus zebra Stripes (voiced by Frankie Muniz) soon finds a warm home on the Walsh family farm (Hayden Panettiere and Bruce Greenwood), which is located next to a racetrack run by the evil Clara (Wendy Malick). Stripes is greeted by a collection of talking animals (including Dustin Hoffman, Whoopi Goldberg, Jeff Foxworthy, Mandy Moore, Joshua Jackson, and Snoop Dogg) who help the teach zebra the system of the farm, along with various life lessons. But Stripes stubbornly insists that his destiny lies at the racetrack. Against all odds, Stripes learns the ropes of professional racing, and endeavors to compete with real racehorses who loathe him for being a zebra.
The 1995 family film "Babe" was nothing short of an instant classic. Sure, it spawned an appalling sequel, but the original was a slice of heaven, stunningly made in every way. Now imagine "Babe" without the heart, acting, writing, direction, lighting, joy, craftsmanship, appeal, design, respect, scoring, wonder, and general storybook feel. That's "Racing Stripes" (IMDb listing).
This dreadful rip-off is yet another kid-film nightmare that lacks anything that might resemble suitable entertainment for the whole family. Yet "Stripes" is an even more fractured experience than usual. Director Frederik Du Chau is really making two movies. One side of the frame is a light, "National Velvet" type of narrative, featuring a cute kid (Panettiere) and dependable father (Greenwood) training a zebra for his racetrack debut. This section of "Stripes" is mild, and on its own, forgettable, but at least tempered and considerate.
On the other side of the film stands the crud that litters almost every family film that threatens release. First is the aforementioned stolen "Babe" material, which has a barnyard full of digitally enhanced talking animals pushing the zebra toward success. "Stripes" even includes a similar wisecracking bird character, here in the form of an Italian-stereotype pelican (voiced enthusiastically, if disgracefully, by Joe Pantoliano) whose purpose in the film seems to be, quite simply, to defecate on things from above. Did I forget to mention the staggering amount of flatulence and poo humor in the film? I apologize. "Racing Stripes" must set some kind of new record for bathroom humor in a children's film. In fact, two well-animated fly characters named Scuzz (David Spade) and Buzz (Steve Harvey) have been invented by the production solely to zip into frame, fart or fall into horse feces, then buzz off. "Racing Stripes" is so devoid of worthwhile material and confidence in its ability to engage the audience with traditional storytelling that its creators feel the need to stack the deck with a constant stream of easy jokes. It's the lowest form of filmmaking.
"Racing Stripes" does offer tiresome character actor Bruce Greenwood a chance to play something other than a bad guy, here warmly realizing the stock father character. But that's the only ray of sunshine in this reprehensible, bleak family feature. I understand that kids are easy to please, and they won't comprehend the sensory assault "Stripes" quickly becomes. But they deserve so much more respect than this steaming pile of garbage.
Filmfodder Grade: D-