The titular character is a wild horse, born to roam free until she is rounded up, taken from her family and sent to Birtwick Stables where she is to be trained and sold off to the highest bidder. Meanwhile, Jo Green (Mackenzie Foy of “Twilight” and “The Conjuring”) has lost her immediate family and is sent to live with her horse trainer Uncle John (Iain Glen). Feeling lost, she’s unhappy and unfamiliar with life at the stables. Soon though, a bond forms between her and the Mustang named Black Beauty. Somehow, they see themselves reflected in one another. “You’ve gotten closer to that filly in days than I have in weeks,” says Uncle John. “They say a horse picks you.”
Later, when it’s time for Black Beauty to move along top a new owner, Jo protests. “If I fought for every horse I ever loved,” Uncle John says, “I’d have a hundred of them.”
“I don’t want a hundred horses,” Foy responds. “I just want one.”
And so it goes, the connection between a girl and her horse remains unbroken, despite the ups and downs in both their lives.
This version of “Black Beauty” features a first, two female leads, Foy and Kate Winslet. The Oscar winning Winslet supplies the voice of Black Beauty in narration, in calm, measured tones that suggest she’s reading the inside of a schmaltzy Hallmark greeting card. “A true mustang never gives up on hope and love,” she whinnies.
It has also dialed back much of the rough stuff—there’s no enforced labor pulling London cabs for instance—that younger viewers may have found distressing in the original story but there are still some emotional scenes that will pull at the heartstrings of young and old.
“Black Beauty” errs on the side of sentimentality, favoring uplift over real edge, but while the smoothed down version has changed some of the details of Sewell’s story but the underlying messages of loyalty and kindness to animals remain the same.