Black Beauty (2020)

Movie review by
Jennifer Green, Common Sense Media
Black Beauty (2020) Movie Poster Image
Peril, emotional intensity in adaptation of classic tale.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 109 minutes

Parents say

age 7+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 6 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The film conveys positive messages of loyalty, family, perseverance, resilience, and courage. Animal mistreatment and abuse are shown in a negative light. Horses are portrayed as strong, loyal, and hardworking animals who deserve kind treatment. They are gentle and only kick or bite when provoked. They are also spiritually uplifting and feel what humans feel, providing "a window" into human souls. "A mustang spirit can never be broken." 

Positive Role Models & Representations

John takes his orphaned niece in and creates a home for her. He's gentle and patient with Jo and Beauty, and he teaches Jo to thank horses for the trust they show humans. Jo connects deeply with Beauty, and she suggests they change the term "breaking" a horse to "partnering." She puts her own life at risk to save Beauty from danger, eventually planning her future around rescuing horses and using them as a form of therapy for other kids. Georgina is called selfish when she pushes Beauty to the point of injury, and Georgina's mother is a snob. Her son, George, is said to have inherited her breeding but not her nastiness. Some teens are mean to each other.

Violence

Beauty is separated from her mother and taken across the country to be "broken" and sold, and she feels guilty because she believes she was the reason her wild herd was found and rounded up by men with lassos and helicopters. Jo's parents were killed in a car accident and she, too, is alone and emotionally wounded when she shows up at the stables where her uncle and Beauty live. Beauty is wild and it's hinted she won't survive if she isn't tamed. When John first tries to ride her, Beauty takes off galloping, knocking John off and dragging him along the ground with his foot stuck in the stirrup. In another scene, Georgina digs holes into Beauty's side with her spurs and pushes her in a race until she falls and hurts her leg. Teen riders make fun of Jo for living and working at the stables, saying she smells bad. Jo pushes one girl into a pile of dirty hay. The stables catch fire and Jo runs in to save the horses. Beauty is sold to a man who rescues people lost in the wilderness, and she has brushes with danger and death, including walking on a cliff's edge and saving people from a flooded river. She nearly dies of cold. She's sold again for hard labor and is mistreated by different owners. She sees her former stable mates suffering a similar fate, and one dies.

Sex

Some teen girls find George attractive and try unsuccessfully to flirt with him. He's interested in Jo and asks her on a picnic date. She finds him "nice and smart and very handsome." They share a kiss at the end of the film when they're a couple.

Language

"Sucks."

Consumerism

The Winthrops are very wealthy and their spoiled kids can acquire any horses they want, a contrast to Jo, who has to save for years to afford to own Beauty. When Mrs. Winthrop sees her son flirting with Jo, she tells him not to "fraternize with the help." She's worried Jo is "of no means," though her husband reminds her she wasn't either when he married her.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink champagne at an outdoor event and Mr. Winthrop asks Mrs. Winthrop how many she's had. She replies "just enough."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this adaptation of Anna Sewell's 1877 classic novel Black Beauty is emotionally taxing, with the central horse suffering abuse, loss, and danger. The human characters, too, find themselves in perilous situations, including being dragged, chased, thrown and kicked by horses, nearly drowning in a flooding river, and risking their own lives to pull horses out of a burning stable. There's also emotional intensity throughout. Both the horse, Beauty, and her human soulmate, Jo (Mackenzie Foy), have suffered the loss of their parents and find themselves alone, their spirits nearly broken. Teen riders make fun of Jo for living and working at the stables, saying she smells bad. When Beauty is sold off to a series of different owners, she's put to hard labor, mistreated, and nearly worked to death more than once. Some of these scenes are quite sad; cruelty to animals can be very difficult to watch. That said, the film, told mostly from the horse's perspective, ultimately shows a clear respect and admiration for the animals, and it conveys positive messages of loyalty, family, perseverance, resilience, and courage. It ends on an uplifting note.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byClintzen08 December 19, 2020
Parent Written byPiggy17 February 6, 2021
Teen, 13 years old Written bylovetoread14 January 7, 2021

Emotional, unique, and fun

This movie is great! It focuses on the horses point of view, while also telling Jo's story on the side. A narrator does a voice-over of Black Beauty's... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old January 11, 2021

What's the story?

Teenager Jo (Mackenzie Foy) and wild mustang Beauty (voiced by Kate Winslet) are both strong souls whose spirits have nearly been shattered by unfortunate events in BLACK BEAUTY. The horse's herd was rounded up from the wild and sold off individually, separating the young filly forever from her mother, community, and the golden meadows of her youth. Jo's parents died in a car accident and she's been sent to live with her uncle, whom she barely knows. This is how Beauty and Jo both end up under the care of horse trainer John Manly (Iain Glen) at New York's Birtwick Stables. The two connect on a spiritual level, helping each other heal and settling into their new lives. One day, Birtwick's stables burn down, and Beauty is leased to a new owner. From there, Beauty is sold on to a series of different owners, each one further from her life at Birtwick. All the while, Jo saves her money and keeps searching for Beauty, never losing hope that the two will eventually be reunited.

Is it any good?

Every generation seems to get its filmed version of Black Beauty, and as with most beloved classics, this one is likely to elicit mixed reactions. Horse lovers and fans of the story will appreciate the reverent treatment of the majestic mustang. Indicative of this, the poster image comes from a memorable sequence of Jo astride a galloping Beauty, both their long, dark manes flowing in the ocean breeze, a golden light glowing from behind. Perhaps intentionally, the film doesn't feel especially contemporary in look or characterizations, beyond one scene where teenagers use their smart phones to film a peer falling off her horse, though there are feminist messages in female Beauty, and mares uniquely lead mustang herds, we're told.

Those unfamiliar with the tale could find the voiceover narration by the horse a little off-putting at first. "A wise horse once told me," the film begins and ends, and in between, Beauty muses about human laziness, loses her temper with a bratty teen, and misses her family. She seems, well, all too human – and at times, thanks to the great Kate Winslet, even a more authentic character than some of the people in the movie. What this story has in all of its versions is the profound, loving, almost spiritual connection between human and animal. So many people have experienced that bond themselves, which could make it hard for them to escape getting caught up in the emotions of this film.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what the original story of Black Beauty has that makes it a work of persistent fascination for generations, resulting in many adaptations before this one. What's the appeal?

  • If you've seen other versions of this story, how does this one compare?

  • How does the film depict Beauty and Jo to be similar in experience and temperament?

  • How do Beauty and Jo show perseverance and resilience? Why are these positive character traits?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love horses

Character Strengths

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