A Disney+ movie reimagines the classic horse story at more of a trot than a gallop

“Black Beauty” gives the original Victorian novel a significant makeover, a contemporary remake that relocates the story to the American West. The movie delivers a more pointed animal-rights message, but while its equine star fares well enough, the two-footed characters never really get out of the starting gate.

a brown horse standing next to a fence: Mackenzie Foy in the Disney+ movie 'Black Beauty.'

© Disney
Mackenzie Foy in the Disney+ movie ‘Black Beauty.’

“A mustang’s spirit can never be broken,” the wild horse of the title, whose thoughts are voiced by Kate Winslet, says at the outset, a statement that will be tested over the course of the movie.

Previously adapted in 1971 and 1994, Anna Sewell’s book has become a children’s literary classic, and the central girl-and-her-horse story dovetails with the brand for Disney+ — another entry for the kid-and-animal live-action bin, dating back to “Old Yeller.” Small wonder the streaming service acquired the completed film, which would have been a tough sell theatrically.

The narrative, however, moves at a pace much closer to a trot than a gallop, as the horse is caught and turned over to trainer John Manly (“Game of Thrones'” Iain Glen), a taciturn fellow who soon receives another new arrival: His recently orphaned teenage niece, Jo (Mackenzie Foy).

Both outsiders, the bond between the girl and the horse as executed here by writer-director Ashley Avis brings to mind “The Black Stallion,” including a shot of the two running along the beach that seems like an homage to it.

The story comes up a bit lame, alas, when Jo and Beauty move to a farm owned by a wealthy family, prompting the imperious matriarch (Claire Forlani) to snap “Our son’s fraternizing with the help” when their dreamy kid (Calam Lynch) begins spending time with Jo.

Beauty’s struggles don’t end there, as her move to the city exposes more of the mistreatment that horses endure in captivity, prompting her to ask in the narration, “How could some people not understand that horses can feel what they do?”

As well-intentioned as the film appears to be, it’s ultimately too inert, even with the changes, to make this familiar story leap off the page. “Black Beauty” isn’t bad, exactly, but rather the kind of flavorless fare that underscores how hard really good family viewing is to corral.

“Black Beauty” premieres Nov. 27 on Disney+.

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Kate Winslet Voices Beloved Horse in Family-Friendly Take on Classic Tale

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Like so many beloved children’s classics, the story of “Black Beauty” has always been run through with blunt messaging, tough traumas, and the kind of painful imagery no kid ever really shakes off. Over time, some of those more realistic impulses may be dulled down for wider consumption — the sort of thing Disney has built its animated classics around, woe to the tyke who watches “The Little Mermaid” and then seeks out its source material — but the darker elements that author Anna Sewell oriented her 1877 novel around have mostly endured through countless adaptations. And while the latest, a family-friendly drama from Disney+ and filmmaker Ashley Avis, offers

Plus, there’s Kate Winslet voicing the horse of the title, a powerful bit of casting that can’t be denied. (And that’s to say nothing of the aces horse acting that goes into creating the on-screen Beauty, emotive and thrilling enough to ably drive home the story’s primary theme that animals have feelings, too.)

Sewell’s novel has been adapted many times over the years, and even Avis’ film’s apparent big twist (Beauty is a girl! and so is the kindly kiddo who loves her!) has been done before (the 1921 silent film version of the story featured a female protagonist, and that was nearly a century ago). But this “story of a wild horse and the girl she loved” has been freshened up in other ways, from its sensitive handling of grief (both human and equine) to its no-holds-barred plea for animal welfare.

Relocated from the English countryside to the American West (though primarily filmed in South Africa), this “Black Beauty” follows a young wild mustang after she’s captured, tamed, and forced to cycle through owners both good and bad. As is always the case with this particular mythos, Beauty remains steadfast in her love for her best owner — winningly played by a lovely Mackenzie Foy — and the hope that they may one day be reunited. Opening with Beauty’s early years in a wild herd (plus a loving mother, clearly not long for this world), Winslet’s spirited and emotional voiceover narration lays out both the scene and the filly’s state of mind.

Caught during a wild mustang roundup, Beauty and her mother are separated, and it’s only dumb luck that lands the young horse with a good-hearted trainer (Iain Glen). Sewell’s story is rooted in the weird chances of life, cycling Beauty through both happy and horrible times, the only difference owed to the people who populate the different circumstances Beauty winds up in. While Avis’ film often gets heavy-handed with that messaging, it’s true to the spirit of Sewell’s book, which forever impacted the fight for animal rights and led directly led to the abolishment of the use of the “bearing rein” (a type of tack that didn’t allow carriage horses to lower their heads) in Victorian-era England.

So, yes, the themes of “Black Beauty” are relatively simple, but that doesn’t

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Watch Black Beauty Find Her Way Home in Trailer for Disney+ Adaptation of Classic Novel

Graham Bartholomew/Disney

Mackenzie Foy is making sure that no one comes between her and her beloved horse, Black Beauty.

On Wednesday, Disney+ released the new trailer for its upcoming film Black Beauty, a modern-day reimagining of Anna Sewell’s classic 19th-century novel of the same name.

The charming-looking film follows the story of a wild horse who is rounded up and taken away from her family when she meets a young girl and the two form an unbreakable bond.

“I heard you lost your family too,” the teenage girl, Jo Green (Foy) says to the animal upon the mustang’s arrival at Birtwick Stables.

Jo has also lost her parents and is living with her Uncle John, played by Iain Glen, at the horse rescue when she meets Black Beauty.

“You really are beautiful, that’s what I’ll call you, Black Beauty,” Jo says as she begins to form a relationship with the equine.

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“You’ve gotten closer to that filly in days than I have in weeks,” John tells Jo.

As new buyers come to take Black Beauty away, Jo tries to hold onto her friendship with the animal that she says “saved [her] life” for as long as she can.

Graham Bartholomew/Disney

Graham Bartholomew/Disney

“I don’t want a hundred horses, I just want one,” Jo tells her uncle.

The beautifully-filmed adaptation also stars Claire Forlani, Calam Lynch as well as Oscar-winner Kate Winslet, who lends her voice as Black Beauty.

Graham Bartholomew/Disney

Graham Bartholomew/Disney

The film, which premieres only on Disney+ beginning Thanksgiving weekend, is directed by Ashley Avis, who also wrote the screenplay.

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The popular story was last brought to the big screen in 1994 with Alan Cumming voicing the titular horse character.

Black Beauty premieres on Disney+ on Nov. 27.

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Black Beauty Trailer Updates the Classic Horse Tale for Disney+ This Thanksgiving

Disney+ has shared the trailer for its upcoming reboot of Black Beauty. The new take on the story premieres Friday, November 27th, exclusively on the streaming service. The movie features the voice of Academy Award-winning actor Kate Winslet as Black Beauty and stars Mackenzie Foy as Jo Green, Fern Deacon as Georgina Winthorp, Claire Forlani as Mrs. WinthorpIain, Iain Glen as John Manly, Calam Lynch as George Winthorp, Max Raphael as James, Hakeem Kae-Kazim as Terry, Matt Rippy as Henry Gordon, and Avianah Abrahams as Anna. The 2020 version of the story is based on the 1877 novel of the same name by Anna Sewell.

Black Beauty is a modern day reimagining of Anna Sewell’s timeless classic for Disney+, and it follows Black Beauty (Kate Winslet), a wild horse born free in the American West. Rounded up and taken away from her family, Beauty is brought to Birtwick Stables where she meets a spirited teenage girl, Jo Green (Mackenzie Foy). Beauty and Jo forge an unbreakable bond that carries Beauty through the different chapters, challenges, and adventures of her life.

RELATED: Black Beauty Remake Rides Onto Disney+ Later This Year

The Black Beauty trailer highlights the pastoral beauty described in the original novel, which may have some viewers wishing they were able to see the movie in theaters instead of at home. With that being said, movie theaters across Europe are shutting down again and it looks like North America might be doing the same in the coming months, which means watching movies at home will have to do, like it has since March. Disney+ has already put out their live-action adaptation of Mulan, though it was available for a premium price. In addition to Black Beauty, the streaming service is also preparing to release the long-awaited Soul on Christmas Day. That particular movie was supposed to have already opened in theaters months ago.

Black Beauty was last adapted for the screen in 1994 with Alan Cumming voicing Black Beauty. Anna Sewell’s novel tackled the subject of animal welfare, which is heavily evident in the Disney+ trailer for the new adaptation. The story also teaches how to treat people with kindness, sympathy, and respect. While the trailer hints at the beauty of animal and human relationships, it does not feature the voice of Kate Winslet, which means viewers are going to have to wait until the end of the month to see what kind of character she brings to the horse’s voice.

Black Beauty is directed by Ashley Avis (Adolescence) who also wrote the screenplay. JB Pictures’ Jeremy Bolt (Monster Hunter) and Robert Kulzer (Polar) from Constantin Film are producers and Martin Moszkowicz, Edward Winters and Jon Brown are executive producers. Dylan Tarason is a co-producer, and Moonlighting Films president Genevieve Hofmeyr (Mad Max: Fury Road) is the South African producer. Black Beauty is produced by Constantin Film and JB Pictures. You can check out the latest trailer above,

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Things to Do: Outdoor classic comedy film, disc golf and a Brunswick shopping spree

Bundle up for an outdoor screening of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” at Thompson’s Point. Skorzewiak/Shutterstock.com 

‘Planes, Trains & Automobiles’
5:30 p.m. Thursday. Thompson’s Point, 10 Thompson’s Point Road, Portland, $70 for up to six people, includes fire pit. thompsonspoint.com.
Time for a flashback to 1987 with Steve Martin and the late John Candy. Here’s a fun opportunity to bundle up and yuck it up with up to six members of your isolation pod at your personal fire pit while you watch the classic holiday comedy “Planes, Trains & Automobiles.” Directed by iconic filmmaker John Hughes, the movie will crack you up as Martin’s character desperately tries to make it home in time for turkey by catching a ride with Candy’s Del Griffith shower ring salesman. The film also has some truly tender moments and uses the Ray Charles song “Mess Around” sublimely. You can hit the full bar and purchase light concessions on site. Masks are required when not seated.

Safely shop ’til you drop in Brunswick on Saturday. Danielala/Shutterstock.com

Early Bird Sale
Beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday. Downtown Brunswick businesses. brunswickdowntown.org.
Sometimes a little retail therapy can go a long way: You’ll feel great supporting local businesses, you can start pecking away at your holiday shopping list, it’ll get you out of the house for a few hours, and heck, you might even find something for yourself. Mask up and head to downtown Brunswick for their annual Early Bird Sale. Most businesses throw their doors open at 8 a.m., and they’ll all be adhering to COVID protocols. Participating spots include The Mix, Wildflours Bakery, Little Dog Coffee Shop, Cool As A Moose, Hatch on Maine, Fleet Maine Running Company, Twice Told Tales, Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Confections and more, and they’re all offering special deals and discounts.

“The Wizards of Oakwood Drive” is a viewer participation theatrical experience for kids. Photo by Sarah Glendenning

‘The Wizards of Oakwood Drive’
11:30 a.m., 1, 3:30, 4 and 5:30 p.m. Saturday. Via Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine, $35 (eight devices per show). kitetails.org.
Here’s a wonderful opportunity for your kid to have a whole lot of fun in their own home, with your behind-the-scenes help. Written and directed by Tom Salmon, “The Wizards of Oakwood Drive” is an virtual, immersive performance geared toward young audiences. It happens on Zoom and will have you and your kid believing in magic. Parents will be sent a list of items and instructions on where to put them around the house, and the show involves battling wizards that will lead your kids on a treasure hunt. Eight kids at a time can participate, and all you need is a wifi connection, a couple of household items and a sense of wonder. You – and your kid – have got this!

Disc golf takes some skill but is a whole lot of fun. Toni_M/Shutterstock.com

Disc golf
8 a.m. to sunset daily. Bittersweet Ridge Disc Golf, 383 Gray Road, North Yarmouth, $8 unlimited play, includes disc rental.

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