Although the talking animal genre seemed to be extinct after the "Dr. Dolittle" movies and "Cats & Dogs", it makes a comeback attempt with "Racing Stripes", the live-action directorial debut from Frederick Du Chau. The film has "Malcolm in the Middle" star Frankie Muniz voicing Stripes, a zebra that gets left behind by a circus, only to be picked up soon after by a farmer (Bruce Greenwood) and his daughter (Hayden Panettiere). Soon after taking up residence, Stripes starts dreaming of becoming a race horse and finds a romantic interest in a fellow horse, Sandy (voice of Mandy Moore.)
Channing (Panettiere) wants to ride Stripes in a race, but her overprotective father is set against it. With some persuading and Stripes showing off the speed he's capable of, he finally lets up and decides to help his daughter and Stripes train for competition. Stripes, although depressed about finding that he's a Zebra and not a racehorse, gets encouragement from fellow farm animals, including a pony (Dustin Hoffman), a pair of flies (David Spade and Steve Harvey), a goat (Whoopi Goldberg) and a mob-affiliated goose (Joe Pantoliano).
"Stripes" is certainly well-intentioned, with quite a few attempts at positive messages, but it's more than a little predictable, following the formula exactly as one might expect, leading up to the big race at the end. The humans aren't given much focus, but the performances by Greenwood and Panettiere are acceptable. The voice work is also pretty good, although the script doesn't offer them much to work with - the humor is targeted towards kids, as it offers a bunch of bathroom jokes.
Although I didn't find it particularly memorable, some children may enjoy this tail...er, tale.
VIDEO: "Racing Stripes" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen (a pan & scan presentation is also available) by Warner Brothers. The picture quality is quite enjoyable, as only a few minor faults were spotted. Sharpness and detail are quite pleasing, as the picture appeared crisp and well-defined throughout, with no noticable softness.
The only issues that came up were some instances of minor edge enhancement. No pixelation or print flaws were seen. Colors remained bright and vibrant, with excellent saturation and no smearing. Black level looked solid, while flesh tones appeared accurate.
SOUND: "Racing Stripes" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 by Warner Brothers. The sound design is that of a "family-friendly" comedy - in other words, a little bit of surround use here-and-there for some minor ambience, but otherwise, the audio is largely front-heavy. Audio quality is very good, with clear, well-recorded dialogue, crisp ambience and full-sounding score.
EXTRAS: The main supplement is a commentary from director Frederick Du Chau. There's two featurettes on the animal actors: "How to Make Animals Talk" and "Animal Acting Class". Next are outtakes, deleted scenes, an alternate ending that extends the relationship between Sandy and Stripes, a "Music of Racing Stripes" piece, the film's theatrical trailer, an interactive comic book and an interactive game.
Final Thoughts: "Racing Stripes" is a cute, amusing family movie. It sticks to formula so much, however, that it's not as memorable as it might have been. Families may want to try this as a rental. The DVD provides fine audio/video quality, and a few nice supplements.