What child hasn't found a wayward stray and asked to keep it? In this movie, young Channing Walsh (Hayden Panettiere) is immediately enamored with a baby zebra her dad Nolan (Bruce Greenwood) rescues during a stormy night. Forgotten by the circus, the little critter takes well to the humans and other barnyard inhabitants of their Kentucky farm.
In fact, the zebra, now called Stripes (voiced by Frankie Muniz), even speaks the same language (which, conveniently, is English) as the resident roosters, horses, and goats. Yes, this is one of those talking animal movies, with a thin veil between the people and creatures that prohibits cross-communication.
The ramshackle Walsh farm overlooks a spectacular horseracing track. Thanks to its close proximity, the livestock can chew their cud with the neighboring pedigreed mounts. Upon hearing news of the upcoming Kentucky Open, Stripes is excited to join in the conversation -- but is quickly put in his place by Trenton's Pride (Joshua Jackson), the highbrow offspring of the proud thoroughbred Sir Trenton (Fred Dalton Thompson). None-the-less, the zesty zebra, who doesn't understand he's not a horse, is convinced he has the potential to enter the big race. Now all he needs to do is persuade someone to ride him.
Channing is quick to pick up on Stripes' hints. The young girl is eager to be a jockey, but since her mother was killed in a racing incident a few years ago, Nolan has been reluctant to let her ride. To assist her cause, the intelligent domesticated beasts disable every other form of transportation available, leaving Stripes as the only option for her to get to work.
Playing the stereotypical part of the repressed daughter, Channing confronts her father with the request of preparing the zebra for the competition. Next thing we know, Daddy is mowing down the one crop that might bring this dying farm some money. With a comedic nod to Field of Dreams, the cornfield becomes Stripes' training area, much to the chagrin of evil Clara Dalrymple (Wendie Malick), the nearby track's owner who is determined to keep the African transplant from entering her race.
It's difficult to not appreciate what is so obviously a painstaking production. Most of the shots were done with real animals (they filmed in South Africa to ensure a supply of trained zebras), with computerized images and puppets used only when absolutely necessary. I can only imagine how long it would take to get a goat to find its mark, or a rooster to crow on cue. Of course the lip-syncing is done with animation, but it's amazing how far this technology has come since the film Babe.
Sadly, the rest of the movie does not show the same care and attention as the visual presentation. Racing Stripes falls behind the pack with a lackluster script that doesn't make the best use of the unique characters and instead resorts to flatulence and poop jokes delivered by two animated flies (voiced by David Spade and Steve Harvey) to wrench a chuckle out of its young audience. It's unfortunate this potentially valid story about not letting your stripes, spots or color stop you from reaching your goals is whitewashed with this off-color hue.