The new Disney+ version gallops strong.
Kate Winslet narrates the mustang’s thoughts, as she explains to the Disney+ streamers about how her mother told her her spirit can’t be broken, how her herd was taken away, and how she ended up in Upstate New York under the supervision of the kind horse trainer John Manly (Iain Glen). She has a personality, and tries to understand the relationship between humans and animals. Viewing from the horse’s perspective, she wonders what humans she can trust, why they function differently, and how they can communicate without speaking to another another.
The new film version of Anna Sewell’s novel “Black Beauty” is updated for the 2020s-a modern day version if you will-as it resolves around the horse’s connection with a teenager named Jo Green (Mackenzie Foy), whose parents died in a car accident. She must live with her Uncle John, and resents him for not knowing her or her family. But soon, she’s able to relate to the mustang, whom she names Beauty, as they both had families they lost.
Seeing these two characters together is sweet and emotional, and when they’re forced to go their separate ways, it’s even more so. It’s a story about life and it’s ups and downs, and how the humans and animals preside.
After the stables burn down, the horse is leased to the wealthy Winthrop family, and Jo tags along to help out for a few weeks. They consist of the stubborn mother (Claire Forlani), the kind father (Patrick Lyster), the snobby daughter (Fern Deacon), who abuses the horse, and the free-spirited son (Calam Lynch) who becomes Jo’s love interest.
The weakness of the film is how the other minor characters Beauty is forced to ride or work with are treated like video game characters. They have some thrilling moments (like a river rescue scene), but they aren’t given as much depth as either Beauty or Jo.
Other than that, writer/director Ashley Avis makes this new version look sentimental without succumbing to the new generation of movie-goers, even though this one is released online. Foy is given strong values and excellent acting, when she portrays a teenager who is given a second chance in life. This makes this her best performance since “Interstellar,” when she played the young Jessica Chastain’s character. Winslet narrates the movie with such integrity and passion, that you’re able to see the voice work match with the animal. She has enough intelligence to make Beauty a creature with feelings. And Glen does a terrific job playing the uncle who wants to make things right with the girl, by becoming her guardian.
“Black Beauty” has something special for kids and adults to resonate with. It has adventures, it has losses, it has rides, and it has character development. Unlike “Call of the Wild” with Harrison Ford or “Dolittle” with Robert Downey, Jr, I couldn’t see a single CGI creature, just real animals. This is how you make a live-action animal movie. You go back to basics, and it’s refreshing.
Streaming on Disney+