By Sandie Angulo Chen,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Spielberg's sweeping horse drama is beautiful but intense.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
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.
Violence & Scariness
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).
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A teenager flirts with a girl he's driving around town; Albert shows off on Joey in front of them.
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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).
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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.
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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.
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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
- Last updated: June 2, 2023
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