Updated ‘Black Beauty’ thoroughbred of drama

Rick's Reviews

Mackenzie Foy stars in Disney+ offering “Black Beauty.” (Photo courtesy of Disney+)

(KGET) — Those who have had family members who have stayed after Thanksgiving or are just home alone have a very strong entertainment option to watch through the streaming service of Disney+. “Black Beauty” is a modern day reimagining of Anna Sewell’s timeless classic “Black Beauty” that deals with love, loss, hope and the power of a bond between humans and animals.

The original production is available for viewing starting Nov. 27.

The film is the beautiful and touching story of a wild horse who comes into the life of Jo, a young girl dealing with a deep pain – played by Mackenzie Foy – just when she needs a friend. She has just lost her family and is forced to live with the uncle (Iain Glen) she barely knows on his ranch.

What Jo discovers is the ranch is a safe haven for horses captured in the wild. Every effort is made there to tame the horses so that they can be integrated into the world. Some are broken. Some are not.

That proves to be a particularly tough challenge with a wild black mustang. The horse looks to be untamable until Jo arrives and there is a connection as both are dealing with their families being gone. The bond Jo and the horse – she has named Beauty – form proves beneficial to both the girl and the horse.

Director Ashely Avis (“Adolescence”) wrote the screenplay based on the book that was written in 1877. Despite the dramatic time difference, Avis has written a screenplay that puts the story in modern times but parallels the original tale from the freedom the horse has at birth to the cruelty Beauty faces in later years. The key element that remains is how even in the darkest moments (a theme that is important right now) there is a way to survive and thrive with a little help from others.

A lot of credit for the film working so well goes to Foy – who you might remember for her role as the child of Bella and Edward in “The Twilight Saga – Breaking Dawn.”  She not only makes the connection with the horse feel very real but manages to play the role from a young teen to a young adult with ease.

Credit also should go to the more than 20 horses used to play Beauty with the majority of the scenes featuring horses named Jenny and Spirit. Avis uses them to present Beauty as a majestic and maternal figure especially in scenes with Foy. Avis gets across the independent and fighting spirit that Sewell gave the character so many years ago.

It might take you a few moments to adjust to the film being narrated by Beauty through the voice work of Kate Winslet. The narration is necessary to offer an insight and once you settle in, Winslet’s voice will carry you through the tale.

The biggest flaw in the production is the structure in telling Beauty’s story. It was necessary to spend a large chunk of the movie establishing the bond between the horse and Jo as it is the heart of the story. That meant rushing through the elements of Beauty’s tale after the two are separated. Each of the horse’s experiences would have made for compelling story elements but Avis pushed through them so quickly that golden opportunities were missed.

It’s not the worst thing when the biggest complaint about a movie is that it was too short. That means what is presented is strong enough to warrant a desire for more.

“Black Beauty” has its heavy-handed moments but not enough to push it into melodrama. In the case of this latest original offering from the streaming service, solid writing and strong performances mean this new take on “Black Beauty” belongs in the winner’s circle.

Movie review

Black Beauty

3 stars

Cast: Mackenzie Foy, Iain Glen, Kate Winslet, Claire Forlani.

Director: Ashley Avis

Rated: Not rated

Running time: 109 minutes.

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