Racing Stripes

When a baby zebra falls off the back of a circus truck in rural Kentucky, Nolan Walsh (Bruce Greenwood), a former horse trainer, picks him up from the road and takes him to his farm. His 16-year old daughter Channing (Hayden Panettiere) names him “Stripes” (voice of Frankie Muniz) and he joins the farm animal community as a little beast who is just a little different. His time in the pasture is spent well.  Everyday he races the mail truck down the lane to the delight of the mail carrier. Stripes can run very fast for his small size.


One day Channing’s motorbike gets a flat so she decides to ride Stripes to work at the local race track instead. When her father learns of this he is upset. His wife, Hayden’s mom, died after a fall from a horse and now he has quit training horses and he is afraid to let his daughter ride. When Stripes sees the thoroughbreds run at the track, he decides he wants to be a race horse, too. But the thoroughbreds in the neighboring pasture make fun of him and are determined never to let Stripes win.


The other barnyard animals, as well as a stray seagull named Goose (Joe Pantoliano), encourage Stripes. Goose is on the run from the aviary mob on the Jersey shore and adds his own two cents to preparing Stripes to run against the race horses. Meanwhile, Woodzie (E. Emmet Walsh), an old friend of Nolan’s, clocks Stripes and realizes he really can run fast. He convinces Nolan to actually start training Stripes for a special race against the horses of the famed Clara Dalrymple (Wendie Malick) who used to employ Nolan as a trainer. She wages Nolan: if he loses, he has to go back to work for her. As Stripes trains for the race, two horse flies, Buzz (Steve Harvey) and Scuzz (David Spade) start hanging around, and the fun really begins.


Racing Stripes is adelightful film that will entertain all audiences – and it deals with some of the same themes as films like Babe or Finding Nemo: grief, fear for one’s children for one character, and growing up different and following your dreams for another. 


Racing Stripes is a great way for families to start the year at the movies. Writer David F. Schmidt, a former major league baseball player, like director Frederik Du Chau and actors Joe Pantoliano and Steve Harvey, all admit that they made this project with children in mind because it tells the story about diversity, community, striving for a goal, teamwork and developing self-confidence. Harvey and Pantoliano in particular mentioned at the press junket that they wanted to be part of a film their own younger children can watch now. Steve Harvey, the voice of Buzz, told of how much he enjoyed working with David Spade, the voice of Scuzz, because he was always trying to “lift him up” so to speak from the dung hill around the race track. There is talk of a cartoon spin-off for the two fly characters that are said to have adlibbed liberally during the taping of the sound track. The horse flies are very, very funny indeed.


Racing Stripes was filmed in South Africa so that the filmmakers could have access to zebras for the filming. While no animals were hurt, of course, during the making of this movie, zebras are not very compatible with thoroughbreds. Racing Stripes is fantasy and fun – a movie where everyone learns a lesson for life, laughing all the way.


My Top 12 for 2004

Let me begin by saying that 2004 was not a great year for the movies – at least not like 2003. However, some of the 88 films I saw this year (out of 250 top earning movies released in the US) do rise to the top.


My criteria for the top 12 are


         excellence in filmmaking

         how well the film tells a story


         or the ability of the film to launch conversations about things that matter, beginning with human dignity

         how well the film entertains



These criteria do not mean that I endorse the POV of the film per se; my top 12 selections reflect mostly how much it got my attention and made me think – or smile. In no particular order, my dozen are:


Spider-Man 2

Fahrenheit 9/11

The Corporation

Maria Full of Grace

Garden State

Napoleon Dynamite


Finding Neverland


Vera Drake

Million Dollar Baby

The Passion of the Christ


(My reviews are all available in this blog.)