26 years after the most famous film adaptation of the classic adventure BLACK BEAUTY They dared to create another, modern new interpretation for the Disney+ streaming service and made some fundamental changes for it. In our review we reveal what they are and whether they are good for the film.
OT: Black Beauty (USA/UK/ZAF/DE/FR 2020)
The black mare Black Beauty (original voice: Kate Winslet) grows up as a mustang in the American wilderness. After she is captured and sold one day, she meets young Jo (Mackenzie Foy) at Birtwick Stables. Jo was also recently painfully separated from her family and finds a kind of soul mate in Beauty. A friendship develops between the two, which helps both the mare and the girl overcome their grief. But the paths of the two will often diverge and find each other again…
In 2012, director Katja von Garnier heralded a renaissance in the horse film genre with her “Ostwind” series, which has now grown to five films. The blueprint for the numerous “girl meets stubborn four-legged friend and both become great friends” adventures is significantly older. Anna Sewell’s bestseller “Black Beauty” is almost 150 years old and is still considered a pioneer for this genre of film that never seems to lose its appeal, because of course the book was subsequently adapted numerous times for cinema and television. The most well-known film adaptation comes from Caroline Thompson and has some well-known actors on board: Sean Bean, David Thewlis and Alan Cumming. But even this is now an impressive 26 years old. So it’s time for another reinterpretation, which in the case of “Black Beauty” will find its way onto the Disney+ streaming service in 2020. Director and screenwriter Asley Avis is the first to bring the story surrounding the eponymous rapper Black Beauty into the present. However, it remains true to the narrative from the horse’s perspective and to most of the stages in life that are familiar from the original.
Beauty and Jo (Mackenzie Foy) form tender bonds.
But probably the most striking change compared to the original concerns Black Beauty itself. We don’t know whether it’s due to the zeitgeist shaped by #MeToo or whether Avis simply wanted to do something “different” than her numerous predecessors. But she decided to turn the black stallion into a black mare – for whose voiceover she used none other than Hollywood star Kate Winslet (“Between Two Lives”) could win; And a name like that looks pretty good on the film poster and in marketing. This gender change is also an understandable step apart from the prestige that comes with it. Eventually, Black Beauty (or Beauty, as she is later called) is established as the lead horse of a wild mustang herd, from which she is captured early in life, tamed and resold several times. For a long time it was assumed that it must be the strongest male animal that sets the tone in such a herd of wild horses. It has now been known for a long time that she is a leading mare that the other animals follow – in this respect, “Black Beauty” from 2020 ensures a course correction in terms of plausibility and credibility. Although unfortunately this does not apply to all the decisions that are made for the four-legged protagonist in the almost 110 minutes.
“We don’t know whether it’s due to the zeitgeist shaped by #MeToo or whether Avis simply wanted to do something “different” from her numerous predecessors. But she decided to turn the black stallion into a black mare.”
As in the book and in various previous film adaptations, the film events are told from the horse’s point of view. Kate Winslet’s voice-over is emphatically calm and explanatory, her warm tone of voice has something level-headed about it. Winslet gives the four-legged star, who is embodied by a total of five different film horses, a soul and makes him the emotional anchor point of his own film – something that not every previous “Black Beauty” film adaptation has managed to do, which often includes the numerous two-legged ones Pioneers of the horse were brought into the narrative focus. Ashley Avis has with newcomer Mackenzie Foy (“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms”) Beauty’s human best friend Jo is also prominently featured (there was also a gender reassignment here compared to the original; previously Black Beauty’s partner in crime has always been a young man) and the horse and girl’s time together is given enough time so that you as a viewer You get a feeling for the close bond between the two, but Jo is just a (albeit important) supporting character who doesn’t steal the show from Beauty’s development from wild to riding to battered carriage horse.
Beauty is portrayed by a total of five different horses.
At this point, shifting the action to the present and sticking to prominent points from the original sometimes get in the way. Beauty’s life portrayed here hardly corresponds to the realities of a contemporary horse’s life. Even the director herself seemed to be aware of this. While the camera shots and equipment of the film seem ultra-modern in the first two thirds, the look of “Black Beauty” becomes more timeless and can hardly be classified at the latest when Beauty arrives at a big city stable, where the aged black mare is supposed to serve as a carriage horse from now on. Probably the biggest point of criticism of the book – the suffering of city carriage horses and the poor animal husbandry – also finds its place in the contemporary narrative, although there are numerous other animal welfare-related topics that the film could have dealt with instead (or in addition).
“While the camera shots and equipment of the film seem ultra-modern in the first two thirds, the look of “Black Beauty” becomes more timeless and can hardly be classified concretely by the time Beauty arrives at a big city stable, where the aged black mare is supposed to serve as a carriage horse from now on. “
The illustration of animal suffering, which is sometimes quite brutal by family film standards, is countered by an almost childish trivialization of the perception of horses. Winslet’s voiceover is as calm and collected as it is thoroughly humane; Something that can create sensitivity to the fact that horses are creatures with feelings, but also raises false ideas – the way Beauty expresses longing, jealousy and feelings of friendship here is tailored to a very young audience and clashes with the otherwise more adult audience Alignment. Viewers of all ages will find it hard to get enough of the lavish panoramas of herds of wild horses.
Conclusion: The new adaptation of the horse classic “Black Beauty” is a solid family adventure in which the selective changes to the original are mostly good, but occasionally they also get in the way. In particular, the strong focus on the four-legged main character puts this interpretation ahead of many others.
“Black Beauty” will be available to stream on Disney+ starting November 27th.