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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Frederik Du Chau|
scr David Schmidt
with Bruce Greenwood, Hayden Panettiere, Wendie Malick, M Emmet Walsh
voices Frankie Muniz, Dustin Hoffman, Whoopi Goldberg, Joshua Jackson, Michael Rosenbaum, Mandy Moore, Joe Pantoliano, Steve Harvey, David Spade, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jeff Foxworthy, Snoop Dogg
release US 14.Jan.05, UK 4.Feb.05
05/US Alcon 1h41
Let me ride him, Daddy: Panettiere and Greenwood
This engaging barnyard adventure features some nice acting from both the on-screen actors and the vocal cast. It also has a superb style that draws us in and just about wins us over with lashings of sentimentality. The problem is that if you substitute a sheepdog-wannabe pig for the racehorse-wannabe zebra--and add wit and charm--you have Babe. A much, much better film.
As an abandoned baby zebra, Stripes (voiced by Muniz) is rescued by farmer Nolan (Greenwood) and his teen daughter Channing (Panettiere). As he grows up, he befriends the farm animals--a helpful pony (Hoffman), meddling goat (Goldberg) and bewildered rooster (Foxworthy)--as well the cute show-jumper (Moore) at the track across the hill. The thing is: Stripes and Channing want to race, but Dad is dead set against it. And everyone else thinks it's just ridiculous.
The outcome is never in question, even though the filmmakers milk it for everything they've got. And the comical elements feel more than a little random (Spade and Harvey's goofball flies are one thing, but Pantoliano as a mafioso pelican?). There also, of course, must be a few villains in the form of the greedy track owner (Malick) and bully racehorses (Jackson and Rosenbaum).
So the only thing that keeps us engaged is the cute factor. And these animals are sincerely adorable, it must be said. There are also frequent funny (but not hilarious) gags to liven up the plot. Meanwhile, writer Schmidt factors in just about everything he can think of, from past glory and self doubt to foul play and an unsung hero. Not to mention the whole high-tech versus old world thing.
It's so blatantly obvious on every level that it shouldn't work at all, but Du Chau's direction is lively and colourful; and even if we never doubt where it's going, the emotional heartstrings do get tugged a few times, against our better judgement. Perhaps children who haven't seen this same story a million times will enjoy it. Otherwise, the rest of us are still waiting for an original underdog movie.
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