Black Beauty: Disney Finally Makes Their Film

A wild horse (voice of Kate Winslet) and a teenage girl (Mackenzie Foy) forge an unbreakable bond which keeps them connected for a lifetime. (Disney/Graham Bartholomew)

The new live-action adaptation of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty arrives on Disney+ over fifty years after the studio released a LP adaptation.

Disney finally did it.  Until this year, the studio was never successful in making either an animated or live-action film.  From what I can tell, this is the sixth adaption–the first since Alan Cumming voiced the horse in 1994.  Unlike previous adaptations, Ashley Avis puts a contemporary twist on her take.  Her take sees the wild mustang, Beauty (voice of Kate Winslet), being born in the American West.  Her life is soon upended as she is sent to live in a corral.

Things change when John Manly (Iain Glen) makes his way to New York.  Call it a bond or what have you but he sees something in Beauty.  What happens next is he adopts her for his training program at Birtwick Stables.  But Beauty isn’t exactly a horse willing to trust humans, not after what she experienced in the wild or a the corral.  Things changes for everyone when John’s niece, Jo Green (Mackenzie Foy), shows us and is able to bond with Beauty.

There are messages here that are bound to resonate with audiences.  This is almost certainly a reason why Disney was drawn to the story.  It has the classic makings of a Disney film.  After all, they did release an LP in 1966.  But will it be enough to attract an audience?  This is what I cannot say.  Not when the 1994 film crashed and burned at theaters.

Anna Sewell wrote her book as a way of getting a message out to audiences.  It’s in this spirit that Avis decides to focus in on wild horses in America.  A worthy cause but will audiences see the bigger picture?  Or will it just be another film that people watch on Disney+ when they aren’t watching The Mandalorian or binge-watching a series on Netflix or another streaming platform?  This film will hit during the most unusual Thanksgiving weekends of our lifetime.  A lot of stores will not have their traditional Black Friday shopping so families have other available options like staying home to watch a movie.

I’m not saying this is a bad film but I’m not going to say it’s an award winner either.  Honestly, I find myself meeting the film somewhere in the middle.  It’s one of those films that struggled to keep my attention.  This could really just be the fact that the pandemic is ruining my sleep schedule.  Would a theatrical release be any different?  Maybe, maybe not.  Kate Winslet, who voices Beauty, has a way of bringing in her fans.  To be fair, I did like this film better than Ammonite but ever so slightly.

This isn’t Mackenzie Foy’s first go-around with Disney.  She previously portrayed Clara in the live-action film, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.  Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar featured one of her best performances to date.

Black Beauty is one of those films that is just okay and somewhere between hit or miss.

CAST:  Mackenzie Foy, Iain Glen, Calam Lynch, Fern Deacon, Hakeem Kae-Kasim, with Claire Forlani and Kate Winslet

Disney+ launches Black Beauty on November 27, 2020. Grade: 3/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.