Movie Picture

The cast of Racing Stripes speak!

The year's first family movie, Racing Stripes boasts a cast of voices that kids will recognize, and some real actors with whom they can identify. Frankie Muniz plays the title character, Stripes, a zebra raised on a farm who wants to become a race horse. The popular TV star is recognizable even without his body appearing on screen.

"A son of one of the crewmembers on Malcolm in the Middle came up to me and said, ‘What's it like to be a zebra?' Muniz said. "They hear my voice coming from the zebra's mouth. It says on the poster [also]."

With a hit TV show and a string of successful movies like Big Fat Liar and the Agent Cody Banks series, Muniz likes to change it up with some voice work. "I love doing the animated stuff. It seemed like a great idea and I knew there was going to be a great cast. I love the Doctor Dolittle movies, Babe. Those were some of my favorite movies growing up. So I thought it would be fun and I had a good time."

His only regret is that he never got to meet the real animals. "They filmed the movie in South Africa for six months or so. I wish I did, because I love animals. I saw the behind the scenes footage. It looked like a fun set. I went to a zoo in Australia and they let me feed all the animals but they wouldn't let me touch the zebras because they're really mean animals. I knew they were going to film zebras and was wondering how they were going to get Hayden to ride the zebra, but it looked good."

Hayden Panettiere provides the live action youth content as the girl who tries to ride Stripes to victory. Originally hesitant to go to South Africa for a five month shoot, she grew to feel at home in the country.

"They're accents are different but that's about it," she said. "I had a good friend over there named Andreas. They have these two schools in Nottingham Road, one was called Hilton and one was called Michael House, and these schools were known for the most gorgeous guys in like all South Africa. And it was amazing. You would go there and your jaw would [drop]. My mom would be [open mouthed]. It was amazing. I would go ga ga. Total eye candy. You were just sucking it all in. And I remember going to Hilton and the girls, the sisters of the boys there going ,‘Let's go to Michael House.' Oh my God. There's more of them? Oh my God."

A teenage girl's dream, the handsome residents of South Africa are not represented in the film, which takes place in Kentucky. So Pantettiere filled her fans in on the real scoop. "It was funny because we went to [a restaurant] and we looked beside us and there was this long, long group of guys and it was like total fate that we met them because it was a birthday party. And we're sitting there, like here's their table and there was a round table and then another round table and we were at this one, and somebody spilled their wine all over the table so we had to move. We moved a table closer to them. Wow. And, the boy whose birthday it was got up and started singing and my voice coach was singing along with him and he turns around in the middle of it and goes, ‘stand up.' And they started singing together and I wound up meeting all of these gorgeous guys. It was like in heaven being there and I wound up visiting these schools. The schools are gorgeous over there and they're so proper, so well brought up."

Riding a zebra was fun too. "It was so fun because zebras are very different than horses. They each have their own personalities and it's very interesting to see. But they're a little more temperamental. You've got your nice ones and you've got your horrible ones and you've got your totally crazy ones. But it's very different than riding a horse. They're very slow animals actually, zebras. Very slow. Unless you stick a lion behind them and even then they won't even run in a straight line. They've got really tough mouths, so it was me sitting there and you would have to tug, where as with a horse you can just sort of glide them along. They walk in zigzag lines and you would have to tug to get them to stop. Some of the ones that we had were so sweet and so well trained it was amazing, amazing what we did with these zebras. Nobody ever expected it."

The adult cast of the film was excited to put out a project for the young ones in their lives too. Joe Pantoliano, who plays the voice of a pelican named Goose, brought his kids in to see the recording sessions, as he has done with other voice roles.

"I've been very successful in doing these voices in movies," Pantoliano said. "I enjoy doing them. I did Olive, the other Reindeer with Drew Barrymore and I did Cats and Dogs, and for me this is a family affair. My children came to some of the sessions, because we live in the east, I did some sessions with [director] Frederik [Du Chau] here and then some sessions on a soundstage in Queens, and my children came and watched. When you go there they lay down the first bit of stuff, and not having the advantage of working with the other actors, you're working with another actor reading your off camera line, and you do the scenes. After you do the scenes they say, ‘Okay, let's just say the line over again. Do it again, do it again.' ‘That's good for me,' says Frederik, and we move on to the next. And then they go off, and they run off to South Africa for 90 days and shot the movie with friends of mine, a lot of these people I've worked with in the past, Wendie Malick and Bruce Greenwood, and it evolves, it comes to life. It's something that my kids can celebrate with me. And let's face it, 80 percent of the work I do my kids can't see."

Steve Harvey, who provides the voice of a CGI horsefly, began the project indifferently, but quickly learned what it would mean to his kids. Harvey recalled, "I was going to shoot it one day, my little boy said, ‘Dad, can I go with you?' I said, ‘No, you gotta go to [school] because this is your extra study day so you can catch up.' So he says, ‘What's the movie about?' And I say, ‘Well, it's ridiculous, man. It's really kind of stupid. It's about this zebra who wants to be a thoroughbred racehorse. That's it.' He said, ‘Wow, he's going to do it.' I said, ‘I don't know, I ain't read it. It'd be kind of stupid though.' He said, ‘But dad, I thought you said that you could do anything, that you could be anything that you wanted to be.' And I went, ‘Well, okay. Well, you know, just because you want to be it, that doesn't mean that he can do it. You can't just be a zebra and just- -‘ He said, ‘Dad, you told me I can't use can't.' Because you know I make my kids, they're not allowed to say can't and they can't say quit. I raised my kids like that… So when he feeds back that type of philosophy to me, that's what the movie is about. It's about this dude that can be whatever he wants to be. And without caring what anybody else thinks and he beats against the odds. My son taught that to me about the movie."