1994, G, 85 min. Directed by Caroline Thompson. Starring Sean Bean, David Thewlis, Jim Carter, Peter Davison, Andrew Knott, Justin.
REVIEWED By Hollis Chacona, Fri., July 29, 1994
I awaited the release of Black Beauty with the anticipation of renewing an affection with a childhood friend and the trepidation of finding that old friend changed beyond recognition. Though she's proven herself a capable and imaginative screenwriter, scoring with such hits as Edward Scissorhands, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, The Secret Garden, and The Nightmare Before Christmas, Black Beauty is Caroline Thompson's first outing as a director. She acquits herself nicely, however. Though the film occasionally grows ponderous in its loving re-creation of Anna Sewell's classic 1877 novel, the film never panders to its young 1994 audience. There is no razzmatazz in this movie, no real bad guys in the cartoon sense children have come to expect in modern motion pictures. Rather, the villainy here is thoughtlessness, a lack of consideration for a fellow being, be it horse or human. Thompson's movie echoes the original story's moral beauty with a lushly elegant look, capturing both the bucolic English countryside and the squalid, crowded streets of London -- from a horse's eye view. Eschewing the traditional approach to telling stories about animals -- which is to focus on the human lives and how they are peripherally affected by the animals they encounter -- this Black Beauty, unlike earlier versions of the book, wisely follows Sewell's lead and concentrates instead on this generous, trusting horse and the consequences of its encounters with humanity. Thompson has repeatedly shown an affinity for the perspective of an outsider looking in -- which may be why she is a perfect candidate for directing children's movies. Like the animals they cherish, children are subject to the whims of their keepers and all too often those keepers do not stop to consider the repercussions of their whims. I have renewed my affection for Black Beauty and discovered that it was I who have changed. I am a keeper now, and my old friend has reminded me that I must be mindful of my whims.