Two rickety old animal movie subgenres get retrofitted with contemporary flourishes in Racing Stripes, a forgettable kid-flick that fuses the plucky-gal-and- her-horse and zany-animal-athlete formulas with the current mania for pop-culture references and heavily hyped celebrity voiceovers. Like a lot of recent cartoons, the live-action Racing Stripes is being marketed largely on the basis of its voice cast, which is a little like selling a book around the guy who wrote the introduction. In cartoons, the real heavy lifting is done by scores of animators who are unlikely to ever end up on Entertainment Tonight. Here, it's done by the barnyard critters for whom all those famous figures (Dustin Hoffman, Whoopi Goldberg, Jeff Foxworthy, Mandy Moore, Snoop Dogg, and others) provide voices.
If Racing Stripes were the 1975 Disney production it often resembles, it would probably star Dean Jones, Tim Conway, and Jodie Foster. The contemporary equivalent stars Bruce Greenwood as a grieving, widowed father, M. Emmet Walsh as a crusty gambler, and Hayden Panettiere as a spunky moppet who lives to ride. Frankie Muniz co-stars as the voice of a zebra determined to follow Air Bud, the Most Valuable Primate, and Gus The Field-Goal-Kicking Mule into sporting legend. But Muniz's ambitions are thwarted by Greenwoodwho forbids Panettiere to ride after her mother dies in a racing accidentand by an equine community that treats the speedy zebra like a second-class citizen of the animal world.
Part earnest, old-fashioned melodrama, part wisecracking broad comedy, Racing Stripes is a film divided against itself. Granted, neither part is particularly distinguished or appealing but the old-timey sports-movie elements at least possess a quaint charm. Unfortunately, that's wholly negated by the film's stumbling attempts at comic relief in the form of strained animal shenanigans, particularly a rapping, flatulent winged insect voiced, inevitably, by David Spade who, in the film's nadir, breaks into a performance of "U Can't Touch This."