A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that in Seabiscuit, Red's parents are forced by their reduced circumstances to give him to someone who owns a stable and who offers to put Red up as a jockey. His parents' unexpected abandonment scars him and might frighten younger viewers who, like Red, do not understand why his parents would leave him. There is an off-screen car crash which takes the life of Charles' young son, followed by shock and mourning. Also, Red tries to make some money by amateur boxing -- Red sustains significant injuries and the crowd watching the fight seems quite menacing. There is another sports-related injury which features Red resulting in a mangled leg. In addition, there are references to drinking during the Prohibition, and the radio announcer drinks quite a bit. The jockeys frequent a brothel in Mexico, where there is a scene of implied sexuality between Red and one of the ladies there.
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What's the story?
Based on Laura Hillenbrand's best-selling book of the same name, SEABISCUIT depicts the equine celebrity who came to fame as the too-small, ill-tempered horse who never should have won, yet somehow managed to defeat the greatest racehorses of his day. "Red" Pollard (Tobey Maguire) is the too-tall jockey whose destitute family gives him to a horse racer who will give him his livelihood by putting him up on his horses. Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), who wishes to own racehorses, seeks out a trainer with a good heart and an understanding of horses, whom he finds in the taciturn, itinerant cowhand, Tom Smith (Chris Cooper). Smith tames and heals horses while introducing Howard to the movie's leitmotif: "you don't throw a life away just because it's a little banged up." Smith finds Howard his racehorse when he sees Seabiscuit, a horse who has spent the last years losing schooling races to other horses to build up their confidence. On seeing the rearing and biting misfit, most jockeys flee from the scene. However, Smith finds his jockey in Pollard and the team of people who need -- and believe in -- second chances is complete.
Is it any good?
This horse lovers' movie is far from perfect, but it offers good, solid, heartwarming entertainment. There is a reason that good movies about sports, almost always about an underdog who overcomes obstacles to succeed, appeal to us in such a visceral fashion. Americans fiercely love athletic heroes because we want to believe that the difference really is in something beyond the physical, that it exists in a big heart and scrappy soul. Seabiscuit brings every evocative notion of the underdog out of the stable in turn but manages to make a movie with familiar themes seem as handsome as a thoroughbred, albeit one that has trouble in the homestretch.
Director Gary Ross does a yeoman's job of trying to capture varied themes in one film. If anything, the themes are kept on such tight reins and are demonstrated to the audience so often that some will find their repetition heavy-handed. Some audiences might find the parts of the movie slow going and the solemn, documentary-styled narration of PBS's own David McCullough a bit on the heavy side. Finally, it is a minor quibble but Maguire sits too heavy in the saddle to be mistaken for a real jockey. Seabiscuit has all the tension, movement and excitement audiences expect from summer flicks, but it has the added bonus of strong acting, which in the summer is often replaced by computer animation or exploding cars.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way each of the characters in Seabiscuit react to loss -- Charles with isolation and reflection, Tom with pragmatism, and Red with anger -- and how these reactions might be strengths or weaknesses or both. they should also talk about how each of the characters (including Seabiscuit) transforms the others. Each member of the family should ask, "Whose life can I change?"
Families should also talk about what Charles means when he says that someone who does not know he is small can sometimes do something big.
- In theaters: July 25, 2003
- On DVD or streaming: December 16, 2003
- Cast: Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Jeff Bridges, Tobey Maguire
- Director: Gary Ross
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Horses and Farm Animals
- Run time: 140 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some sexual situations and violent sports-related images
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