Taken from its mother in the wild, a horse (voiced by Kate Winslet) wanders from place to place and owner to owner, but can't find a place to call home. The horse distrusts humans, until she meets a teenage girl named Jo Green (Mackenzie Foy). The two form a special bond.
Audiences of a certain age may recall the 1994 movie adaptation of Anna Sewell's classic novel, in which Alan Cumming voiced the titular horse. This time around, Black Beauty is female and voiced by Kate Winslet. Her narration is simply lovely, with a voice made for bedtime stories. Audiences should recognise the human leads, Mackenzie Foy ('Interstellar') and Iain Glen ('Game of Thrones'), too. Mind you, there's nothing remarkable about their or other characterisations, or the performances. Still 'Black Beauty' proves a pleasant enough watch, in spite having pacing issues in parts.
If you're wondering how the running length adds to 2 hours, one must note there are far too many scenic shots of horses galloping (alternatively on their own or with a rider). The story plays out conventionally, and predictably, with fast-paced editing incorporated so as not to lose the viewers' (especially younger ones) attention. While the wealthy family plot trajectory is almost interesting, there's a "mean girls" bit which feels lame. Still, 'Black Beauty' has moments of sentimentality that ring sincere, and you end up warming up to its equine protagonist and mopey teenage lead.
Beauty and Jo are both resolute and hard-working, wild things that can't be tamed. It's a satisfying process, seeing the two emerge from their shells and celebrate one another's successes. The movie reflects on animals and people being on completely different wave lengths when it comes to communicating - some humans prove more understanding than others. As with the original, there's a take home message about being kind to animals, with moments of animal cruelty scattering the narrative. Fortunately the film doesn't overindulge in the hard times Beauty endures, for it might prove too much for young viewers (and let's be honest, for us older viewers too).
Even with a couple of thrilling action set pieces, 'Black Beauty' is very by the numbers and takes few risks. But remember, it is headed for Disney+, which is pretty much completely geared towards family viewing. For that purpose, this film makes a neat addition to the streamer's library, offering something nice and enjoyable for the whole clan. Here, Beauty has found her home.
'Black Beauty' streams on Disney+ from Friday, November 27.