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You’re just different. And for some horses different is scary.”

Film
A dark, stormy night. Rain lashes down as lightning illuminates a travelling circus struggling to get all the animals into the trucks. After much battling with the elements they are on their way, but a forlorn mother looks back at the baby zebra left behind in the road.

Nolan Walsh (Bruce Greenwood—I, Robot, Hollywood Homicide, The Core) is also fighting his way through the unforgiving precipitation and finds the abandoned offspring, luckily stopping just in time to avoid an accident. Taking him back to the farm, Nolan and his daughter Channing (Hayden Panettiere—A Bug’s Life, Ally McBeal) take care of the foal, dubbing him Stripes (inventive, eh?). Meanwhile, the other inhabitants of the farm look on...

Racing Stripes
Three years later, and Stripes (voiced by Malcolm in the Middle’s Frankie Muniz) is fit and well and full of running. This is normally a good thing for a zebra—what with Lions and that generally wanting them for lunch—but it’s not particularly necessary on a Kentucky farm. However, with the farm being next to a training ground and racecourse, and Stripes being generally horse-shaped, no-one has seen fit to tell Stripes that he isn’t a horse and he longs to run with the racehorses over the fence.

Stripes is ably assisted in his quest by the other livestock on the farm. Franny (Whoopi Goldberg) is the goat that holds the animals together, Reggie the rooster (Jeff Foxworthy) runs around a lot, and Lightning (Snoop Dogg) says little and lies on the porch (that’s right, Snoop Dogg voices a dog). Throw in the wise-cracking hit-goose, err, Goose (Joe Pantoliano) and it all adds up to, well, not much help at all really.

But then you have Tucker (Dustin Hoffman). You see, the Walsh farm wasn’t always just a place to grow wheat and have a few animals running about. Nolan Walsh was a successful trainer and worked ‘over the fence’ with Ms. Dalrymple before a tragedy put him off horses for good. He and Tucker brought out the best in all the horses he trained and, until he quit, Clara Dalrymple’s stables were always a home to winners. Tucker sees the potential in Stripes and makes it his mission to rally the troops and get Stripes into the Kentucky Derby.

You can probably guess by now that this is not the most original of plots and as far as predictability goes while not off the scale it does score highly. It is a decent kid’s film though, and it is a fairly upbeat yarn that should keep the little blighters occupied for a bit. The live action animal work is all very convincing—even the mouth movements have been pulled off well with the help of a little CGI—and visually it works.

The humans on show do a stand-up job in their supporting roles. Bruce Greenwood is a solid father and reluctant trainer, Hayden Panettiere plays the caring daughter well and has the most to do in the film, and Wendie Malick plays the slightly evil Ms. Dalrymple in a way that some may find reminiscent of her stint on Just Shoot Me!. The stars of the show are the animals though, and the vast array of talent brought on board to give them voice is impressive. The aforementioned troupe are also joined by Mandy Moore (Stripes’ love interest, Sandy), Michael Rosenbaum (Ruffshodd), Joshua Jackson (Stripes’ racing rival Trenton’s Pride), Fred Dalton Thompson (Sir Trenton) and Michael Clarke Duncan (Clydesdale) and although everyone has their comedy moments there are two smaller stars.

Racing Stripes
Providing the main comedy relief are a couple of flies—Buzz and Scuzz (Steve Harvey and David Spade). Poop jokes abound and the humour can be quite base, but everyone loves poop jokes, don’t they? These CGI creations get to cause havoc and even help out the hero in several situations.

Predictable fluff, but it is a well-meaning, humorous and entertaining film that should do exactly what it sets out to do—keep the kids happy.

Video
Coming out with a not-particularly-spectacular, average bit-rate of 6.64Mb/sec, the anamorphic 1.85:1 presentation still manages to kick it up a notch, hovering between 8 and 9Mb/sec when it matters. Detail is pretty good throughout, with the storm right at the start and other dark and dusky scenes—such as the Blue Moon Races—exhibiting a nice amount of clarity. Similarly, the daylight scenes cope with the abundant picket fencing without the moiré pattern that can occur on the long distance shots, and skin texture is good as well. The light shafts in the barn at around 1h12m are a further example of the decent transfer and dust etc. can be seen clearly. There is, however, the tiniest bit of edge enhancement but nothing distracting.

Colour-wise the film starts off subdued but a more vivid spectrum is on display by the end (as per Mr. Du Chau’s intentions, apparently) and the colours at the racetrack look lovely. This never heads into garish territory though (although Miss Dalrymple’s hat comes close at the end), and the balance remains good from start to finish. The night-time scenes have a bluish hue to them, but this only serves to increase the level of detail on display. A bit of ringing did appear around the moon, rather than a nice, smooth bit of moonlight, but overall it’s a very nice effort.

The sole English subtitle track is easily read, and the layer change is nicely positioned in a blackout at 1h08m59s at the start of chapter twenty—although the sound did drop out for a second on my player.

Audio
The effects utilised on the Dolby Digital 5.1 English surround track are well handled from the start. The rain beats down and there are a couple of satisfying thumps from the subwoofer to accompany the thunder. The old fallback of galloping hooves also provides ample opportunity for the .1 channel to strut its stuff, although even I thought it could be a bit heavier—and I prefer my bass to be a little more refined than most.

Racing Stripes
Stereo imaging is good—as is the clarity of the treble end—but although the rear channels provide a good deal of atmosphere there aren’t any real directional effects to speak of and the track has a heavy front bias. All of that is forgivable, and it still makes for a nice sounding track but where it does fall down is on the quality of the vocals. While it is probably the fault of the overdubbing process, the vocals do not sound as crisp as some of the other elements of the soundtrack and come across as ever so slightly muddy.

No big complaints though, and the age group that this is aimed at won’t give a monkeys as long as they can see a talking zebra...

Extras
There is a barn full of extras to sit alongside the film, all of which—apart from the commentary—are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo English, although sadly without any subtitles.

First up—ironically—is an ‘Alternate Ending’ (1m25s, non-anamorphic 1.85:1), taking the shape of additional footage that would have introduced us to a new addition to the family. It would have served as a less abrupt finish to the movie—and could set up a sequel quite nicely—but what would you call a cross between a horse and a zebra?

Next we have some ‘Barnyard Outtakes’ (non-anamorphic 1.85:1) of some of the hilarious (or not) animal footage that didn’t quite make it into the film. There’s another 4m12s of Buzz & Scuzz, some of which is unfinished digitally (read: wireframe with voiceovers) and contains some extended or slightly different takes on scenes in the final edit. They are joined by similar antics from Lightning (41s), Goose (40s) and Reggie (2m39s), although since these are not CGI creations the animals in question are here in their full glory. There is a handy ‘Play All’ feature as well.

‘How To Make Animals Talk’ (5m43s, non-anamorphic 4:3 & 1.85:1) is a short piece on the process of getting talking animals onto the big screen which skims over the ‘Vocals & Storyboards’ to filming, re-dubbing and onto the final FX shots to make the mouths move. You get the gist of things, but when I said ‘short piece’ I meant it.

‘Animal Acting 101’ (9m43s, non-anamorphic 4:3) makes a little better fist of things, as our very own Stripes (i.e. Frankie Muniz) talks us through the preparations and training of the numerous animals used for each character in the movie. A fairly informative featurette, helped along by input from the various trainers.

Racing Stripes
A selection of ‘Additional Scenes’ (in non-anamorphic 1.85:1) are also included. We get:

- Stripes at Play (39s);
- Tucker’s Bad Joke (13s);
- Sir Trenton Pep Talk (37s);
- Miss Dalrymple’s Press Conference (29s);
- Woodzie’s Risky Bet (37s – split in the placing and the collection of his winnings).

None of them would have made much difference to the film overall, but then they probably wouldn’t have done any harm either. Still, mustn’t complain, eh? Oh, there’s a ‘Play All’ feature as well.

‘The Music of Racing Stripes with Sting and Bryan Adams’ (4m01s, non-anamorphic 4:3 & 1.85:1) is exactly what you would expect from the title. Sting and Bryan separately talk about their single track contributions to the soundtrack and how the film shaped the final compositions. Blatant salesmanship for two songs that you hardly notice over the course of the film.

Oooh! A game! ‘Buzz & Scuzz’s Flyin’ Fiasco’ challenges you and your trusty steed (okay, your fingers and the cursors on your remote) to win the big race. Watch the screen, listen for Buzz and Scuzz to shout out directions, and then repeat those directions on your remote. Two difficulties and increasing challenges as the races near the climax (i.e. more directions to remember), but adults will tire of it and children will no doubt get frustrated by it no matter how much you tell them it’s a good memory test.

On to the next bit, which although it goes by the title ‘Interactive Comic Book’ it is basically a 6m31s Flash animation that serves as a precursor to the actual movie. The only ‘interactive’ element even remotely in evidence is the choice to have the on-screen captions with narration or without, but it might keep the little ones occupied while you go and make a cup of tea.

A director’s commentary’ accompanies the main feature, and has Frederik Du Chau passing on his thoughts and a few anecdotes about the making of his first live-action movie. There are quite a few pauses, but generally it is a warm and informative track and it flows quite well. The soundtrack used sticks to the Dolby Digital 5.1 English format of the main track, so when the film is allowed into the foreground of the soundstage it is a lot clearer than on most commentary tracks.

Finally, the somewhat long theatrical trailer (2m24s, anamorphic 1.85:1) manages to put over the plot and possibly most of the surprises as well, and an Easter egg entitled ‘Curb Your Distributor’ (2m16s, non-anamorphic 1.85:1) pits Reggie the Rooster against the Fox bigwigs in trying to get wider promotion for the film.

Racing Stripes
So, a decent selection but being on a single dual layer disc it isn’t that surprising that most of the content is average at best. The commentary stands above all extras on the disc, but the animated ‘prequel’ is a nice inclusion as well.


Overall
An average and predictable (there’s that word again) movie, with a decent transfer and acceptable audio and extras. The commentary and picture quality are the standouts of the package, but the film itself has its moments and – if you’ll forgive the backhanded compliment—it won’t be the worst film you’ll see this year by a country mile. To paraphrase the tagline for an old superhero film, you’ll believe a zebra can race!


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