A zebra who thinks he is a racehorse takes on the thoroughbreds in the best live action talking-animal movie since the beloved Babe.
Horse trainer turned farmer Nolan Walsh (Bruce Greenwood) finds a baby zebra and brings him home. For his daughter, Channing (Hayden Panittiere), it is love at first sight. She cares for the little zebra tenderly and when we pick up the story three years later, Stripes is a cherished part of the farm family.
But Stripes (voice of Frankie Muniz), who has never seen another zebra, thinks he is a racehorse, like the beautiful thoroughbreds he sees at the race course next door, owned by snooty Carla (the acid-voiced Wendie Malick).
His friends on the farm include an experienced pony named Tucker (voice of Dustin Hoffman), a goat (voice of Whoopi Goldberg), a pelican far from the sea (voice of Joe Pantalino) named Goose, and two flies, Scuzz (voice of David Spade) and Buzz (voice of Steve Harvey). The race horses jeer at him, but Stripes trains by trying to outrun the mail truck and dreams of winning a real race. A sympathetic filly named Sandy (voice of Mandy Moore) provides encouragement. The animals find a way to let Channing know that Stripes is fast enough to race and wants to ride him, but Nolan, whose wife died in a racing accident, does not want Channing to compete.
The human performers are just fine, especially the underrated Greenwood. He is too often relegated to bad-guy roles (Double Jeopardy), but he shows real warmth and screen presence here. Up-and-coming young Panittiere (A Bug’s Life, Remember the Titans) makes us believe in her devotion to her father and the dream of racing she shares with Stripes. But the movie is all about the animals and the voice talents and computer-aided “acting” make the characters very real and very appealing. The humor may overdo the doo-doo, but there are sweet and funny moments as Stripes tries to follow his dream and learns the importance of friends.
Parents should know that the movie has some mild language including insults like “idiot,” “blow sunshine up your tail,” and “kick your butt.” A bad word is amusingly cut off by an animal’s “baaa.” There is some crude humor, much of it involving animal poop (which most children will find very funny). An animal parent is very harsh to his child. There is a scary fall and some off-camera violence, but no one is hurt. Some viewers may be concerned about the storyline concerning the death of Channing’s mother in a racing accident.
Families who see this movie should talk about why Stripes was so unhappy to find out he was not a horse. Why did Clara and Nolan have different ideas about what was important? Why do some people think “different is scary?” What does it mean to say “You can put your boots in the oven but that doesn’t make them biscuits?” What made Nolan change his mind about letting Channing race? They should also talk about the importance of both skill and discipline, and both ability and heart. What can you tell about the way families can resolve differences by the way Nolan and Channing talk to each other?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Babe, Milo and Otis, Fly Away Home, Charlotte’s Web, and the two greatest horse movies of all time, National Velvet and The Black Stallion.