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The children’s classic Black Beauty gets another screen adaptation, this time from Disney: a modern-ish take in which the young human heroine is seen writing stuff in her school exercise book about climate change and horses are shown as therapy for disabled young people. But it’s a sonorously well-meaning film that bathes everything in the bland, buttery sunlight that Disney always produces and in which the human performances are as opaque as the ones given by the horses
Jo (Mackenzie Foy) is a teenage girl whose parents have been killed in a car wreck and she’s sent to live on the farm owned by her rough-hewn, honest uncle, the resonantly named John Manly (Iain Glen). John breaks and trains horses, and one of these is a magnificently proud mustang, which lonely Jo names Black Beauty (Black Beauty’s cutesy-wise narrative voiceover is performed by Kate Winslet in a twangy American accent, this being an American horse.) Only Jo can tame this horse, and only this horse can heal Jo’s grieving heart.
The big change in this new version is that Black Beauty is now a mare, and the gender-switch perhaps changes the emotional dynamic, especially in the scene where – how to put this? – Jo ecstatically barebacks with Black Beauty for the first time. From there, the story becomes episodic as Jo and Black Beauty are parted and the horse has lots of different owners, some good, some mean, but proud Beauty always mutely keeps her spirits up, and Jo always dreams that some day she will find Black Beauty again. (The Call of the Wild and War Horse were both, in their ways, influenced by this story.)
Fundamentally there’s something pretty uninspired and corporate about the way this film is presented, more like motion-capture than real humans and horses.
• Black Beauty is released on 27 November on Disney+.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Black Beauty review – gender-swapped classic makes Beauty a ‘mare | Film