Dir: Frederick Du Chau.US. 2005. 102mins.
A talking zebra picture which borrows liberally from Babe, NationalVelvet, Doctor Dolittle, Ice Age, The Incredible Journeyand every Disney movie on record, Racing Stripes may not be a familyfilm on the Pixar level of sophistication, but it generates enough of its owncharm to score with kids and keep family-hungry exhibitors satisfied in thepost-holiday drought.

Shot, like Babe, as alive-action film but with CGI animation techniques allowing the animals to talkincorporated, it's an independently financed affair which Warner Bros ishandling domestically through its deal with production company AlconEntertainment.

Alcon's internationalpartner Summit Entertainment sold foreign territories, and distributors acrossthe globe will enjoy a medium-sized hit with longterm value as a kids'must-have DVD. The film opens in the US on Jan 14.

Directed by US-based BelgianDu Chau, whose sole credit is Warner's 1998 animated flop Quest For Camelot,Racing Stripes is the story of a baby zebra who is accidentallyabandoned by a travelling circus during a thunderstorm and rescued and raisedby widowed horse farmer Nolan Walsh (Greenwood) and his winsome daughterChanning (Panettiere) in Kentucky.

The zebra, dubbed Stripes bythe girl (and voiced by Muniz), grows up thinking he is a horse and determinesto become a racehorse, longing to train with real horses on the nearby estateof dastardly millionaire breeder Clara Dalrymple (Malick).

But while he enjoys warmthand friendship from the animals on the farm like grumpy old Shetland ponyTucker (voiced by Hoffman) and wise old goat Franny (Goldberg), he is scornedby the horses who taunt him about his appearance and lack of breeding. All,that is, except the sexy filly Sandy (Moore) who takes a shine to him.

Channing also longs to be ajockey, like her mother who died in a riding accident, but her over-protectivefather forbids her. When Stripes engineers it that she ride him to work at thetrack one day, she starts to realize his potential and sets about persuadingNolan to led her ride him in the Kentucky Open.

All the family film clichesare here from lessons about accepting outsiders, overcoming death and believingin yourself to the Cruella-style villainess and two crazy comic sidekicks -horseflies voiced by Steve Harvey and David Spade - who add some incongruoustoilet humour.

Uninspired as it is, thereare some smart lines and colourful voice performances from the likes ofHoffman, Goldberg and Spade which adults will enjoy. But kids and adults bothwill be running out of patience by the time the final race is run. At 102minutes, Racing Stripes is unnecessarily convoluted and comparesunfavourably to recent 90-minute-or-under family hits like The Lion King,Toy Story, Ice Age and Shrek.

Prod co: Alcon Entertainment
US dist:
Warner Bros
Int'l sales:
Summit Entertainment
Exec prod:
Steven P Wegner
Andrew A Kosove, BroderickJohnson, Lloyd Phillips, Edward L McDonnell
David Schmidt, from a storyby Schmidt & Wegner and Kirk DeMicco & Frederick Du Chau
David Eggby
Prod des:
Wolf Kroeger
Tom Finan
Mark Isham
Main cast:
Bruce Greenwood,Hayden Panettiere, M Emmett Walsh, Wendie Malick
Voice cast:
Frankie Muniz, DustinHoffman, Whoopi Goldberg, Mandy Moore, Michael Clarke Duncan, Snoop Dogg, DavidSpade, Joshua Jackson, Joe Pantoliano, Steve Harvey, Jeff Foxworthy