Straight from the Horses Mouth
Something strange occurred to me as I sat down to watch the 1994 version of "Black Beauty"; I knew nothing of the story other than it featured a horse. Here we have a beloved children's classic written by Anna Sewell first published in 1877 and since has been adapted into a range of movies and TV series yet I had never watched one or read the book. It meant that when this 1994 version started and I heard Alan Cumming's deliver a narration from the point of view of the horse I though what the heck am I watching. Fortunately that sense of oh dear wore off quite quickly as I became charmed by this tale of the life of Black Beauty and all the people he met on his adventures, in the same sort of way that the "Lassie" movies worked but with narration from a horse, don't worry there is no manipulated mandibles going on.
Lying in a field Black Beauty reaccounts his life from his carefree days as a young colt where Farmer Grey (Sean Bean - Outlaw) trained him through the ups and downs of his life. We meet the people which Beauty met, learn about his friendship to Ginger the horse in the next stable and the hardships he suffered at the hands of poor owners.
So as already mentioned "Black Beauty" does come across a bit like a "Lassie" movie and in particular "The Courage of Lassie" because it is a family friendly tale of the people Black Beauty meets and various dramas which occur during his life. As such we actually go from Black Beauty being born where he is trained by Farmer Grey before being sold firstly to a nice family, then a not so nice family and so on and so fourth. With each move there is a moment of drama, be it a burning building or a flooded bridge and there are those who are nice to Beauty whilst others not so.
All of which is charming and fun especially the narration which actually works really well in giving us a horse's view on life, be it the first time wearing a bridal to when Beauty meets Ginger and falls for the chestnut coloured horse. It allows us to understand how a horse might feel but also be witty at the same time bringing smiles to your face such as when wearing a saddle for the first time felt like being strangled, but was okay in the end. Yet at the same time understanding how wearing a bearing rein or walking on the cobbled streets of London was painful.
But here is the thing, whilst "Black Beauty" is both inoffensive and charming, even the subject do death is handled in a nice, safe way, it almost doesn't have an audience. What I mean is that most of the humour comes from the witty dialogue which older audiences will pick up on but will probably fly over the head of young ones. And that doesn't really leave much for younger audiences other than some nice footage of horses and nature. But then whilst the humour may work for older audiences the simple tale of a life of a horse is not exactly that exciting for older audiences.
As for the acting well with this being about the various people which Black Beauty encounters there are a lot of recognizable British actors in the cast all of which play their parts well. But that in itself could provide a sticking point for younger non British audiences because there are regional accents going on from Yorkshire to London and unless you are familiar with them some of the dialogue isn't clear.
What this all boils down to is that "Black Beauty" is a very entertaining and beautifully made family movie. But it feels like a family film made for adults rather than young children because most of it relies on you picking up on what is being said in the narration with much of it feeling a little too clever for younger audiences.