Thursday, 3 May 2012

Racing Stripes (2005)

Dir. Frederick Du Chau
Starring: Frankie Muniz, Hayden Panettiere, Bruce Greenwood, Mandy Moore

Another sports movie, another underdog. Underhorse. Underzebra. Whatever.

Racing Stripes is a sports movie for young kids. So that means it has all the right sentiments about following your dreams, having heart, not being afraid to be different etc etc. But for a children’s film I’m not sure it ticks all the necessary boxes.

It starts on a dark and stormy night. In their hurry to pack up a travelling circus leave behind one of their own: an adorably cute zebra foal. This foal is found by farmer Nolan Walsh (Bruce Greenwood) who takes him home. The little fella instantly wins the heart of his young daughter Channing (Hayden Panettiere, pre-“Save the cheerleader” and dating eight foot tall Ukrainian powerhouses). They decide to keep him and name him ‘Stripes’.

This being a children’s film, Stripes has a voice and character of his own. He loves to run. Soon, however, he runs up against the thoroughbred racehorse foals from the larger, richer farm next door. They mock his dreams.

Fast forward three years and Stripes (now voiced by Malcolm in the Middle’s Frankie Muniz) is all growed up. He is determined to prove that he is a race horse, so together with his farmyard pals they hatch a plan to get Channing to ride him and have Nolan enter them in the upcoming Kentucky Open race. He wants to put one over on the snooty thoroughbreds next door, even if it means risking everything against former champion Sir Trenton (voiced by Fred Thompson) and stable-owning ice queen Clara Dalrymple (Wendie Malick) who are perfectly prepared to act underhandedly. Oh, and along the way he can pick up token love-interest filly Sandy (voiced by Mandy Moore).

The filming is clever. It is a live-action film, not a cartoon, with real animals but with the images of the animals manipulated somehow so that they do seem to talk, goggle their eyes and otherwise interact. Training them to move on cue must have been an absolute nightmare. It certainly gives an extra spin to the underdog sports movie.

But will it work for a young audience? Not being 8 myself I find it hard to judge. There are certainly some characters, the louder and more slapstick ones such as the Mafioso New Jersey pelican Goose (voiced by Joe Pantoliano) and the disgusting flies Buzz and Scuzz (Steve Harvey and David Spade), that will appeal. And there are messages in there about following your dreams, daring to be different (and not judging others because they are different) and that breeding, training and skill count for nothing against someone with “the biggest heart”. Personally I’m not sure about that last one, but they are all improving morals to the tale.

Watch out for the zebra crossing

 Yet, it is a children’s story written and cast by adults. Frannie the goat is voiced by Whoopie Goldberg, who has next to no comedy to get her teeth into. She might as well be reading out the phone directory. But when it comes to misusing actors, how about casting the great Dustin Hoffman as Tucker the Shetland pony? And giving him such duff un-funny lines as “Goose, who’s a pelican who’s really a stool-pigeon who’s a chicken who ducks. That’s five birds. Count ‘em!”? He must have been desperate for the money I tell myself. Goose and Buzz and Scuzz have poo-related humour: this is good. But they also burst out into songs like Ebony and Ivory and You Can’t Touch This. Very topical. And the big epic theme songs are performed by ‘80s legends Bryan Adams and Sting. Again, I feel that they were aiming for a target audience 35 years older than the kiddiwinks. When Nolan ploughs a race-course into his cornfield one of the characters opines “If you build it, they will come”. This reference would only have been got by anyone who has seen Field of Dreams. There is more adult content in there as well. The inference is that Goose is a Mafia hitman, which I’m not sure is appropriate in a children’s film. And there is a lazy bloodhound voiced by Snoop Dogg. He has three years. I’m kinda hoping that most 8-year-olds don’t know who Snoop Dogg (the rapper whose dope-smoking and pimping is part of his persona) is. Certainly, the fact that Lightning is perpetually half-asleep plays in to Snoop’s dope-smoking image. Also, it is an inescapable fact that baby Stripes is waaaay cuter than teenage Stripes.

Racing Stripes is a mostly harmless film with some good visual effects and a rather bland storyline that under-uses some great acting talent and will probably entertain the kids for 1½  hours. I’m not sure they will be clamouring to watch it again immediately afterwards however.

What have I learnt about Kentucky?
The looove their horses in Kentucky. Horse rearing and horse racing is big money and a passport to success.

Can we go there?
So far on this journey I have found movies that are filmed where they are meant to be set, that are filmed in studios, or that are filmed in other locations around the United States. I have found a couple that were filmed abroad, but not too far distant (Canada, basically). And I have found films where scenes that were supposed to be set abroad were relocated to America for shooting (e.g. Capote, where the Kansas scenes were shot in Manitoba, Canada, and the Spain scenes in Malibu, California). Racing Stripes is the first where a very different country stood in for America. Rather than Kentucky, the film was shot in South Africa.

Specifically, the movie was filmed in the vicinity of Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal. The disused Riverholme Farm in the Midlands Meander region provided the backdrop to the Walsh Farm and Dalrymple Stables. Turfway Park was actually  Scottsville Race Course.

Overall Rating: 2/5

No comments:

Post a Comment