A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this family classic is a coming-of-age Western and includes a few violent or disturbing scenes (a father dies, a young woman is slapped by her father, a group of cattle hands brawls in close quarters). Expect a few strong words ("damn," "bulls--t"), too. There's a slow-building romance and some taunting language about women and poor men, but otherwise this is a tween-friendly tale about wild horses and a young man and woman who fall in love despite the odds stacked against them.
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What's the story?
Set in late-19th-century Australia, this family drama follows Jim Craig (Tom Burlinson), who lives with his father, Henry, in the pristine hills of Snowy River country, where stampedes of wild horses routinely gallop through the land. After Henry is unexpectedly struck and killed, Jim is told he's too "green" to take over his own land and is forced to take a job with Mr. Harrison (Kirk Douglas), an American cattle baron who's made a fortune in Australia and is the talk of the country for his pure-bred colt worth 1,000 pounds. As Harrison's youngest employee, Jim strikes up a tentative friendship with Harrison's lovely daughter, Jessica (Sigrid Thornton). While Harrison and his crew of drivers and hands attempt to herd cattle off the hills, Craig and Jessica attempt to break the colt. But when Harrison returns and discovers that his daughter is smitten with a lowly cattle hand, tempers flare, the colt is freed, and Jim must prove he's above suspicion to secure the woman he loves.
Is it any good?
Back in 1982, this family-friendly Western -- complete with A-list star Douglas and a sweeping score -- put the Australian film industry on the map and made American audiences take notice. Decades later, parts of the movie feel overly sentimental (the music is especially cheesy every time Jim and Jessica gaze at each other and heavy handed at the mere possibility of violence). But it's still a charming and feel-good film, especially for audiences who like stories about self-starting young heroes who don't let their perceived station in life get in the way of their ambition or their sense of duty. Jim has a remarkable belief in honor and what's right, even if Harrison treats him like a lowly employee.
The cinematography and the horse sequences are especially beautiful, as are all the sweeping shots of the snow-capped hills. Like the sequences of The Lord of the Rings that feature New Zealand's beautiful landscape, this film highlights the gorgeous Australian hill country with a tenderness that makes the land another character in the movie. One of the best parts of the tale is Douglas' double duty as the rich and powerful Harrison and his estranged brother, Spur, who's a peg-legged hermit convinced that there's gold to be found in the hills. The romance is mostly an exercise in longing looks and good-natured pranks, but it strikes just the right note of chaste fluttery for tween viewers. Families who appreciate animal tales will love this classic drama.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's message about class and ambition. Why does Mr. Harrison spurn Jim, even though he, too, is a self-made man? What about the mentions of a woman's place? Are they sexist or just accurate for the time period?
Compare this film to others featuring horses. How is this one different? Is the emphasis on one horse or the horseman? Name some other movies that feature horses in a starring role.
Nowadays movies are more likely to feature talking animals than animals in their natural state. What kind of animal movies do you prefer?
- In theaters: November 5, 1982
- On DVD or streaming: May 28, 2002
- Cast: Kirk Douglas, Terence Donovan, Tom Burlinson
- Director: George Miller
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
- Genre: Western
- Topics: Horses and Farm Animals
- Run time: 102 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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