War Horse



Spielberg's sweeping horse drama is beautiful but intense.
Parents recommendPopular with kids
  • Review Date: December 25, 2011
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2011
  • Running Time: 142 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Albert and Joey's relationship is a story of perseverance, loyalty, and unwavering friendship. The two belong together, and Joey is committed not only to serving his country but to finding his beloved horse again. There are also messages about war -- both that it's an honor to serve your nation but that it's a tragedy to have to die for it.

Positive role models

Albert is an amazing young man. He's dedicated and disciplined to train and teach Joey and later to find him again. He's brave during battle and selfless in his actions. Despite his courage, he's also quite kind and sweet. A German soldier tries to save his younger brother from fighting, even if by doing so he endangers himself. A French grandfather and his sick, precocious granddaughter have a beautiful relationship that's combative but close.


The war scenes aren't sugar-coated. They're not as graphic as the R-rated Saving Private Ryan, but there's definitely a body count -- with dead and injured soldiers and horses shown. Most of the disturbing war scenes are in the movie's second half. Particularly upsetting moments include two young soldiers being shot for deserting, other key supporting characters (including a horse) being killed in action or from exhaustion, and a major character being injured (it's unsure whether he'll make it or not).


A teenager flirts with a girl he's driving around town; Albert shows off on Joey in front of them.


British slang/insults like "barmy," "bugger," "bloody," "daft," "stupid git," "old sod," "fool of a father," and the like. Also "hell," "damn," and "good lord" (as an exclamation).

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Mr. Narracott drinks and seems to be known for being drunk on a regular basis. He stumbles around and slurs his words on occasion.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the English children's book and hit Broadway show 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?

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?


WAR HORSE combines two of Spielberg's favorite themes as a director -- family and war. Yes, the movie is long (nearly two and a half hours) and sentimental, but that's fine, because 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.

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. 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.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the movie'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.

Movie details

Theatrical release date:December 25, 2011
DVD release date:April 3, 2012
Cast:David Thewlis, Emily Watson, Jeremy Irvine
Director:Steven Spielberg
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

This review of War Horse was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

  • A harrowing and Beauty-ful version of the book.
  • Breathtakingly beautiful, magical classic is a must-see.
  • Great family movie; even better for horse lovers.
  • Inspiring true story about an amazing woman and her horse.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Parent Written byclearbluemorning January 1, 2012

This is a very disturbing movie, and not for kids.

I strongly urge parents to see this first before even considering bringing any children (any age). The movie was disturbing on many levels. The bodies being blown 20 feet in the air were graphic enough, but the tragedies happening to the horses were even worse and extremely torturous. I've read the horse was supposedly conscripted into the army, but actually the alcoholic father sold him after the game horse and son plowed his rocky land to save his farm after he drank up the payment again (plus he tried to repeatedly shoot the horse before that, so definitely a disgusting father image created). The mother is obviously an enabler of the father's alcohol use and tries to defend why he needs to drink, after he tried to kill the horse again). The war scenes show piles of rotting horses cast in piles after being worked to death or collapsing and then shot, and others' bodies littering huge fields after being mowed down by gatling guns. And then the torture and beatings and some cruel horse handlers, then hope that someone kind is going to help the horses, then a few minutes later that's gone and the horrors return. There is the scene of a 14 yr old boy and his brother being executed for desertion, the prolonged close-up viewing of a horse encased like a mummy in barbed wire...the face, the legs, the body, and the horse falling off the trench wall he tried to leap, landing on his back. And then he finally gets back to the British and they try to shoot him in the head just before his past owner finds him (owner temporarily blinded by mustard gas exposure and facing probable carcinogenous future. I spent much of the time saying Oh My God and debating if I should walk out or just keep frequently covering my eyes. I wish I had left. And the last ten minutes, when you think it's finally going to get some happier emotions going, you find out what happened to the Frenchman's granddaughter, so even that's spoiled. Despite a great score by Williams, and a "Gone with the Wind sunset" depicted at the end, this film might well give your children (and you) nightmares for a long time. I;ve had horses for decades, and see all the horse movies; this is by far the most horrific one I've ever seen. I cannot believe a director with children, knowing kids will probably go to this movie, would be willing to show these scenes to them. Be prepared to have some lengthy talks with the kids after seeing this. Better yet, skip it and go rent Secretariat or some other less horrific horse story. The few positive things in this movie are not enough to warrant showing it to your kids...or even you.
What other families should know
Great messages
Too much violence
Parent Written byGifted Advocate December 26, 2011


Great movie for the whole family including Tweens, parents and grandparents. The war scenes were intense but toned down somewhat for children. Actually, a good movie for kids to get an idea of war was and is really like and how everyone, including children are affected. Amazing photography and visually beautiful. Bring tissues for mom!
Parent Written byhoneyfox December 27, 2011

Parents use own judgement for younger children

I am more controlling than most parents about what my kindergarten-aged boy sees but I did take him to see War Horse (he rides and shows horses). There were many elementary-aged children there since we live in a horsey area. I did some research and decided with preparation and subsequent conversation, he could see it. Honestly, I had no problem with the content in this movie. The worst parts were the trailers for other movies. The lessons learned in this story far outweighed the exposure to war scenes, and I don't allow gun play of any sort. Many young children are too sensitive to see these images but my son is very pragmatic and is sensitive enough to know war and violence are wrong but is not scared by the way Spielberg handles these scenes. For example, in the first charge, British cavalry use swords on German infantry. You see the rider slash with the sword and the person falls to the ground but you don't actually see the sword make contact. In the same battle, you see Germans get behind guns and shoot and then see riderless horses. Later you get a bird's eye view of the battlefield. He walks a fine line. In the end, I'd rather my son watch this than most of what is out there for children.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Star Wars Guide