Just when you start thinking they don't make movies like this anymore, they go and make one. Racing Stripes is not only one of the best films of its kind, it's one of the best movies I've seen in the past few years. Animal movies always get to me; they suck me in emotionally more than any other kind of story. You may well shed tears of both happiness and sadness as you watch this film, but I can pretty much guarantee you'll laugh and be thoroughly entertained - and more than ready to go back and watch it all again as soon as you reach the end. This is an inspirational film full of the kinds of truths kids need to learn and adults need to remember. It may well be the best family-friendly movie thus far of the new century. The keys to its success are a great story, a great cast of both animals and humans, and an indomitable spirit that few movies can convey over the course of 103 minutes.
It's a sad beginning, as we see a young zebra accidentally left behind by a circus on a road in Kentucky; luckily, Nolan Walsh (Bruce Greenwood) finds the little guy and takes him home to his farm - where his daughter Channing (Hayden Panettiere) instantly falls in love with him and names him - what else? - Stripes. Stripes is also welcomed by the other animals on the farm - and it is here we learn that these animals can talk. Talking animals is a bigger risk than you might think - it can easily flop if done poorly, but there are no worries here: the cast of voice actors is superb. Dustin Hoffman plays a miniature horse named Tucker, Whoopi Goldberg is Franny the goat, Jeff Foxworthy is good for many laughs as Reggie the rooster, and the list goes on. The farm lies adjacent to a horse track, and Stripes immediately decides he is a race horse - no one tells him he's a zebra. It just so happens that Nolan is one of the best horse trainers around, but he left all of that behind some years earlier when his jockey wife was killed in a racing accident. That doesn't stop Channing from wanting to ride, however, and Stripes is determined to some day prove himself on the track. He takes a lot of abuse for this - the horses in this film, with one exception, are incredibly arrogant, hateful creatures that constantly make fun of Stripes. Luckily, though, a pretty little filly named Sandy (Mandy Moore) befriends and encourages him. I should mention the fact that Frankie Muniz supplies the voice of Stripes - and even Snoop Dogg contributes as the voice of Lightning, the world's laziest dog.
The odds are against Stripes. No zebra has ever raced with horses, and Nolan is adamantly opposed to letting his daughter race at all. That's where Stripes' animal friends come in. Even the newest addition to the farm, a Mafioso pelican named Goose (Joe Pantoliano) does his part. The only characters who can give Goose a run for his money in terms of comedy are Buzz and Scuzz, two flies featuring the voices of Steve Harvey and David Spade. Wait until you see them dance and sing. A number of physical and emotional obstacles stand in the way of Stripes' realizing his dream. To succeed, he will have to want it with all of his heart, stand up against ridicule and even physical threat (Sir Trenton is not going to sit still for a zebra joining in a race his son is supposed to win), discover who he is and what he is made of. You'll want to stand up and cheer for this plucky little zebra with the heart of a champion. There's so much more to this story, though. Nolan's struggle to forget the past and support his daughter's dreams is quite emotional, the animals are all incredible characters themselves - especially Tucker, the little horse who helps train Stripes for the big race (and is amply rewarded in a very poignant moment). I've always believed that we see the best of human nature through our animals, and that is certainly the case here. The only complaint I have is that the talented animal actors who pretty much carried this film did not get their names listed in the credits. This always bothers me; every human who had anything to do with these animals gets credited, but the animals themselves are snubbed - it should not be this way. The animals make this movie and they deserve to have their own names in lights.
I'll conclude with a warning: parents who buy this DVD for their kids can expect to see a lot of this movie, as kids will inevitably want to watch it multiple times. The good news is that parents should enjoy multiple viewings of Racing Stripes just as much as their kids surely will.