Racing Stripes

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Using digital animation to make real animals talk or perform other distinctly human behaviors should be a cardinal sin of moviemaking. As much fun as it is to play with technology, there’s something creepy about watching a goat’s lips move like a human’s, and it’s rarely funny.

Of course, there’s an exception to every rule, and Racing Stripes is an exception.

Despite the Mister Ed-meets-the-computer-age special effects, this Babe rip-off centers on an out-of-place zebra named Stripes who dreams of being a racehorse, and manages to amuse more than just the kids.

Although it’s PG-rated, the film appears to target a younger, Barney-loving crowd. Aside from a few inappropriate instances of name-calling, some poop jokes and a couple of “oops, I almost said a bad word” moments, the movie is squeaky, G-rating clean. Frankly, at times Racing Stripes oozes with a gooey sentimentality that could make Timmy and Lassie seem like Statler and Waldorf of The Muppet Show’s balcony.

Stripes (voiced by Frankie Muniz of Malcolm in the Middle) was unintentionally abandoned by his circus family and now lives on a Kentucky farm next to a stable of racehorses and a track. On his quest to race, Stripes must endure taunting from the neighboring thoroughbreds, giving the movie an “it doesn’t matter if you are black or white, or black and white” theme.

Stripes and his love interest, a beautiful mare named Sandy (Mandy Moore), supply most of the saccharine, with plenty of nuzzling and inspirational speeches.

The humans are stereotypical and sappy too. Apple-cheeked teen Hayden Panettiere plays Channing Walsh, Stripes’ owner and eventual jockey. Her overprotective father was once a champion horse trainer, but hasn’t been the same since his wife died in a riding accident. Their story gives the movie a “you can do it!” theme.

The best bits for the grown-ups in the audience come from the stable of B-listers (so that’s where you’ve been hiding, Joshua Jackson) who supply the voices for the supporting cast of animals. David Spade and Steve Harvey are hilarious as a couple of singing, dancing and poop-loving fly siblings. Snoop Dogg even gets a couple zingers and drops a “fo’ shizzle” as a lazy hound dog. The only A-lister to be found, Dustin Hoffman as a Shetland pony, has great chemistry trading barbs with Whoopi Goldberg, playing a goat.

Some fresh humor and decent work from the supporting cast save this zebra flick from a talking-animal disaster. Despite having a well-worn plot and a played-out gimmick, Racing Stripes manages to pull out a decent finish.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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