A horse known as Black Beauty narrates the story of his life, bought and sold severl times and undergoing a number of adventures.
Anna Sewell's classic novel of four-legged, swish-tailed turmoil returns to the screen with the able assistance of Caroline Thompson - longtime Tim Burton scribe - in her directorial debut. Lovingly filling the frame with the lush meadows of southern England, she sticks close to the source material and, unlike so many adaptations, the focus is most definitely on the animals rather than on the array of humans that cross Beauty's path. Indeed, the whole story is told through the horse's dark eyes with his string of owners being much more minor parts.
Listening in on Beauty's thoughts, spoken in an eloquent Scottish burr, keeps things trotting along steadily and also manages to generate much sympathy for the horse in his inability to communicate with his numerous guardians. Beauty spends his life clopping from one set of owners to the next, some caring, others cruel, a series of adventures all staged with exacting period detail under the charmingly unassuming direction of Thompson.
The stars, naturally enough, are the horses - Black Beauty and his friends Merrylegs and Ginger - and thoroughbred beasts they are too. Despite this emphasis, some of the two-legged performers hold their own, from Bean as Beauty's initial owner and trainer, to the award-winning Thewlis (in a dramatic reversal from his role in Naked) as a London cabbie who becomes Beauty's fourth owner.
This slice of traditional, hype-free family fare scores highly as a healthy dose of wholesomeness for the Megadrive generation, but may find it a push to make any impression on those adults lacking an appropriate equine obsession.