A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the English children's book and hit Broadway show, War Horse, depicts war in a realistic manner that's too intense for younger kids. Despite being an earnest, sentimental horse drama, the war sequences show soldiers being killed in action (and for desertion) as well as a field of dead cavalry horses. Three subplots focusing on families depict their own wartime tragedies, including a drunk father; a sick, orphaned granddaughter; and a soldier trying to save his underage brother from going to the front line. But the heart of this story is the touching bond between Albert and his beloved horse, Joey, who might be the bravest horse ever portrayed on film.
What's the story?
In WAR HORSE, after English teenager Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) sees a beautiful foal being born and his father, Mr. Narracott (Peter Mullan), spends the family's rent money to buy the thoroughbred at auction -- just to outbid his cruel landlord, Mr. Lyons (David Thewlis) -- Albie thinks the foal is his destiny. After agreeing to train "Joey" himself, Albie works tirelessly to teach the horse to plow a field. Against all odds, Albert and Joey succeed -- but when a storm damages the family's crops, Mr. Narracott is forced to sell Joey to a cavalry officer (Tom Hiddleston) setting out to fight in World War I. The action then follows Joey as he switches owners -- and sides -- in the Great War. Eventually, Albie is old enough to enlist and hopes to find his beloved Joey again.
Is it any good?
This film combines two of Spielberg's favorite themes as a director -- family and war. The stand-out performances deserve credit for making the movie's 146 minutes worth your while. The cast is a virtual who's-who of rising English talent -- up-and-comer Irvine (making his feature debut), the always terrific Benedict Cumberbatch, and Thor breakout star Hiddleston as the earnest captain who buys Joey -- along with veteran supporting actors led by Emily Watson, who shines as Albert's wise, hardworking mother, who always knows what to say.
Yes, War Horse is long (nearly two and a half hours) and sentimental, but that's fine. The story demands emotional depth, especially in the second and third acts, when it's Joey the audience is following, not Albert. Between the gorgeous cinematography (all those lush landscapes and claustrophobic trenches) and the expert editing, the film doesn't drag. As epic dramas go, this one is more heart than heft, but it's a beautiful portrayal of the extraordinary friendship -- and circumstances -- surrounding a boy and his horse.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about War Horse's violence. What is its impact? Do you think it should have been toned down to make the movie even more family friendly?
Talk about the techniques Spielberg uses to "humanize" Joey. Do the extreme close-ups and swelling score make it easy to relate to the horse? Were you expecting the focus to shift to Joey's adventures instead of Albert's?
Why are horse movies so popular with audiences? Compare War Horse to other famous horse-centered films.
- In theaters: December 25, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: April 3, 2012
- Cast: David Thewlis, Emily Watson, Jeremy Irvine
- Director: Steven Spielberg
- Studio: DreamWorks
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book characters, Great boy role models, Horses and farm animals
- Run time: 142 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense sequences of war violence
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.