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Black Beauty – Movie Review

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Black Beauty – Movie Review

Rating: D (Very Bad)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Walt Disney Studios

Anna Sewell’s book Black Beauty has been adapted several times for the screen, so it makes sense for there to be a modern adaptation. This new take attempts a sprawling narrative as we follow the horse ending up on a farm and meeting a young girl who becomes her friend, only for them to be eventually separated. The possibilities are there for something emotional, but the problem comes from a script that isn’t the least bit subtle about how the characters are feeling. Even the titular horse is given an obvious narration that expresses everything on her mind. The main challenge with any Black Beauty adaptation is that horses are not the most compelling animals out there, so a lot is required to make an interesting story with them.

Horses aren’t able to easily express themselves as well as dogs or pigs or cats or other animals that commonly star in movies. Thus, it’s often up to the human characters to create the needed emotional bond. Unfortunately, the humans in Black Beauty are all flatly written stereotypes. Mackenzie Foy does a decent job of playing Jo, a newly orphaned girl who takes a liking to Beauty. However, it takes a while to warm up to Jo as many of the early scenes portray her as bratty and obnoxious towards her uncle. The dialogue is incredibly on-the-nose, often spouting exposition and having characters say out loud how they’re feeling. Neither Beauty nor Joy are interesting enough, making a lot of the film a slog to sit through.

The film additionally has some antagonists, who are written as broadly as possible. Jo encounters a few teenage girls, who are portrayed as mean and snippy, but feel like bizarre Greek choruses. Everything they say is trite or expositionary and their dislike for Jo doesn’t even make sense in context. Beauty is leased to a rich family of horse enthusiasts, with the daughter and mother exhibiting every snooty behaviour in the book. These don’t feel like real people and Claire Forlani is directed to act in such an over-the-top manner, one half expects her to close down an orphanage at some point.

The other owners Beauty eventually finds herself with also don’t bring much to the table. The movie does attempt to show the mistreatment of horses in some stables, which is admirable, but it doesn’t dwell too much on this. Beauty’s internal thoughts are voiced by Kate Winslet, but most of her narration consists of explaining what’s happening on screen. The dialogue gets sappy at many points, pouring the syrup on much too thick. It’s hard to care about Beauty, when she’s given very little personality. The opening scenes with her in the wild even come across like Disneynature documentaries, but without the charm and wonder.

As stated before, horses are some of the most boring animals in the world. There have been good horse movies over the years, like War Horse and The Black Stallion. However, there are surprisingly few and far between. If you’re going to make a film centered on horses, there are many hurdles to jump over. For viewers who do find horses interesting, Black Beauty might be more appealing. Looking beyond the mustang at the centre, though, the film is overly sentimental with one-dimensional characters and a narrative that moves at a snail’s pace.

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE