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Review: Black Beauty (2020)

Every horse girl’s dream movie.

I have little to no recollection of Black Beauty (1994). I vaguely remember my brother watching it a few times at our grandparents house, and I seem to recall a few scenes where the titular horse is treated poorly by its cruel owners. Literally no other detail about that movie springs to mind. I guess what I’m trying to say is, the original movie is entirely forgettable. You’d think such a glaring problem would be rectified in a modern-day update, right? Wrong. Black Beauty (2020) is as equally unremarkable as its predecessor, marking yet another misstep for Disney when it comes to live-action remakes of classic stories. You guys, I cannot believe just how dull this movie was. I had a feeling going in that it wasn’t going to spark any excitement in me but wow, I wasn’t prepared for this level of intense boredom.

Credit: / Disney+

Based on the classic novel of the same name, Black Beauty tells the story of a horse named Beauty and chronicles her life as she travels from one home to another. At one stable she meets Jo Green, a lonely young girl whom Beauty instantly bonds with. Though obstacles, distance, and years eventually keep Beauty and Jo apart, the pair never lose hope that they’ll see each other again.

Okay, so the movie starts and immediately I start laughing. I’m sorry, but go and watch the first five minutes of this movie and try to tell me that you were able to hold in your laughter. Black Beauty literally opens with Beauty running on a deserted beach while soft voice-over from Kate Winslet ponders the mysteries of life and love. I was like, “wait a second, am I watching a perfume commercial by accident?” In fact, I’m pretty sure that I’ve watched dozens of 30 second commercials with more heart and intrigue than the entirety of this movie. Needless to say, this confusing, pretentious, bland beginning gave me little hope for what lay in store for me. When your movie jumps from a perfume commercial to an adorable, yet slow-moving birth of a horse, I can tell that the rest of what lies ahead is going to be just as slow-moving. It takes so long for the central pot of Black Beauty to actually get started that I can confidently say you’re good to skip the first 25 minutes. Absolutely nothing of importance or interest happens and even when there was only 40 minutes left, I was still left with the unsatisfied feeling that I hadn’t really watched anything of note. This movie is a colossal snoozefest.

If you’ve ever seen a single movie where a spirited child protagonist befriends an equally spirited animal, you can already predict 90 per cent of the conversations, scenes, and events that unfold in Black Beauty. It’s exactly the type of movie you’d expect it to be but somehow even more dull. Black Beauty practically makes The Lion King (2019) look downright lively and lovable by comparison. By the way, check out my review for that movie, here.

The movie’s heart is in the right place and does an adequate job of conveying themes of love and resilience, but never tries to break the mould and do anything unique. Something to set itself apart from the hundreds of other movies with similar themes and plots. Which is a shame because if it had the courage to take more bold risks, then perhaps Black Beauty could have been a game-changer responsible for shaking up a stale genre. Instead, director Ashley Avis plays it safe and delivers a predictable movie full of clichés and thinly-veiled metaphors that come off feeling plastic and cheap. Despite trying so hard to be special, the movie lacks heart and instead relies on pretty cinematography and an abundance of narration to hoodwink audiences into thinking Black Beauty is more impactful than it is. Seriously, the first five to 10 minutes of this movie are solely narration.

Credit: / Disney+

This is presumably the easiest money Kate Winslet has ever made, right? As the voice of Beauty, I assume the actress simply spent a weekend in a sound booth recording all her lines in the same monotone voice while relaxing in sweats. Winslet delivers the lines beautifully though at times a little wooden, and it gets to the point where she sounds as though she’s narrating a National Geographic documentary or even just reading the original book into a microphone. Actually, watching the movie is just like listening to the audiobook. The cast gives you such a minimal amount of energy to work with that there’s no payoff to paying attention to the screen. Just rely on the HEAVY amount of narration and exposition the movie shoulders you with.

Mackenzie Foy stars as Jo and her leading performance can be best summed up as, “meh.” It’s not particularly awful, but it’s just the bland frosting on this already bland cake of a movie that there isn’t very much to say about the young actress. She’s there, she reads her lines well enough, and although mostly lifeless for the entirety of Black Beauty, there are fleeting moments where you can see the potential of a capable actress desperate to get out. If she were in a more substantial movie, who knows? Maybe she could surprise us all in another Disney movie. Although, after Black Beauty and the bizarre The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018), who knows if they’ll give Foy a third chance. By the way, check out my review for that movie, here.

Credit: / Disney+

This revamp of Black Beauty isn’t sure to win over a legion of new fans or even leave a lasting impression in the minds of the handful of people who will probably end up streaming it on Disney+. However, if you absolutely LOVE horses, and the kinds of movies that prominently feature them, than this movie is going to be like catnip for you. For the rest of us who are neutral on the subject, this is one horse I wouldn’t bet on.

Have you seen Black Beauty?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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