Horse Sense

Movie review by
Kat Halstead, Common Sense Media
Horse Sense Movie Poster Image
Heartfelt family drama is inoffensive but predictable.
  • NR
  • 1999
  • 92 minutes

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

Educational Value

The movie's purpose is to entertain not educate. But there are a number of positive messages that younger viewers can learn from.

Positive Messages

Family is a central theme. Honesty, integrity, loyalty, self-sacrifice, acknowledging privilege, and the ability to appreciate things beyond material possessions are also important.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Tommy is polite, patient, understanding, and protective towards his mother. He is also loyal and hardworking on their ranch. Michael begins the movie selfish and spoiled -- lying and shirking responsibility, never thinking of others, and placing money and stature above all else. But he grows to become empathetic and self-sacrificing as the movie develops. Betting at a horse race is shown, but the characters involved are not portrayed in a good light. A culturally insensitive comment is made about the name of a Native American character. 

Violence & Scariness

A few scenes show animals in distress and there is mention of horse racing being a form of animal abuse. The death of a father is referenced on numerous occasions. There is a minor car crash in a car park, but nobody is hurt. A character is thrown from a horse and narrowly escapes being charged by a bull.

Sexy Stuff
Language

The words "butt" and "darn" are used.

Consumerism

The scenes in Los Angeles involve large mansion homes, expensive sports cars, scenes of high-end shopping, and the giving of extravagant gifts. Repeated reference is made to exclusive vacations and people's professional status.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

There is a decanter and glasses shown on a coffee table, but nobody consumes alcohol on camera.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Horse Sense is a Disney TV movie that is a heartwarming combination of a fish-out-of-water and coming-of-age drama. Michael Woods (Joey Lawrence) is a spoiled rich kid who is sent to Montana to work on his cousin Tommy Biggs' (Andrew Lawrence) ranch as a punishment for bad behavior. The movie references the death of a father on numerous occasions, as well as financial difficulties, and the potential loss of a home and business. As a means to emphasize how unaware Michael is of other people and cultures, he makes an insensitive remark to a Native American character called Mule (Steve Reevis) -- Michael assumes, incorrectly, it's a nickname. The scenes set in Los Angeles involve excess, with big houses, cars, shopping, and fancy holidays as the primary concerns of the characters, who do not care about college work or responsibilities. There are visits to racetracks, betting, and a passing reference to animal abuse. Otherwise, the movie is a gentle drama that is unlikely to surprise, but has a strong moral compass and message about working hard, showing empathy, and learning to put others first.

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What's the story?

In HORSE SENSE, 20-year-old Michael Woods (Joey Lawrence) is a rich kid in Los Angeles, who is used to living a carefree life. When his 11-year-old cousin Tommy (Andrew Lawrence) visits from a small town in Montana, Michael hardly spends any time with him, prioritizing his snobby, demanding girlfriend Gina (Jolie Jenkins) and his desire to sleep in. On discovering his selfish behavior and lies about a minor car crash, Michael's parents send him to work on the ranch owned by Tommy and his mother Jules (Susan Walters) -- both as a punishment and a last-ditched attempt to make him a better person. As he struggles with the harsh realities of the countryside, much to the amusement of the other workers, Michael discovers the ranch has been struggling since the death of Tommy's father and sets about trying to find a way to save it. But with just hours to go before the place is auctioned, and Jules refusing to take handouts, can he rethink his priorities and find a way?

Is it any good?

Played by real-life brothers, the chemistry between on-screen cousins Michael and Tommy is strong, even when fighting, and Walters is fittingly wholesome as Tommy's proud but struggling mother. The Montana backdrops are spectacular, extending for miles, with wild horses galloping and sunsets descending, making it difficult to see how Michael could fail to be hypnotized.

The plot itself is generic and predictable, but is handled with a sureness and charm that makes for a pleasant and heartwarming watch. Though it is Michael who undertakes the major change in the story, Tommy's character also has an arc in learning to deal with the loss of his father. The scope of the two characters mean younger children and teens should be able to relate to both in different ways. The movie doesn't bring much originality to a well-trodden trope, but it does paint it beautifully and with an honesty that makes for a tender drama the whole family can enjoy.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the character of Michael develops during Horse Sense. What was important to him at the beginning of the movie and how does that change by the end? How does he show empathy and humility? Why are they good character strengths to have?

  • How are Michael's lifestyle in Los Angeles and Tommy's lifestyle in Montana presented? What differences and similarities are there?

  • What do you think is the message of the movie?

  • Michael and Tommy are played by real-life brothers. Do you know of any other movies that real-life siblings act alongside each other? Do you think it would make filming easier or harder?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love horses

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