The Young Black Stallion Movie Review
A year passes, but the black stallion does not return. Neera's grandfather tells her that the horse was probably nothing more than a product of her imagination. But Neera knows better. She thinks the stallion is the "lost horse of the desert," a legend supposedly "born of the sands" and "sired by the night sky" (or whatever the hell that means). Will the mysterious black stallion ever return?
The film is based on Steven Farley's 1989 novel of the same name. It is also Disney's first production made specifically for IMAX theaters, and a prequel to the 1979 film, The Black Stallion. The original film won an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing and received nominations for Film Editing and Supporting Actor Mickey Rooney, but it doesn't appear Disney has such lofty expectations for The Young Black Stallion. According to reports, the film was originally scheduled for release in fall 2002, then was postponed until September 2003, and then was shelved yet again.
The film isn't as bad as Disney's release delays might lead you to believe. It's not really that bad at all -- but it's not really that good either. The Young Black Stallion doesn't invite strong opinions one way or another. It's cute, cuddly, G-rated family fare -- nothing more, nothing less--which isn't surprising seen as how the director, Simon Wincer, has a lot of experience making family films (Free Willy, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles). Even for kiddie fare, however, The Young Black Stallion doesn't quite hit its target.
With a plot as skeletal as Jessica Simpson, kids and adults alike will find it difficult to endue the film's mere 45-minute entirety. Yet, believe it or not, the book is even skimpier on plot: it centers on the colt after he learns to survive on his own in the mountains (imagine the excitement there--or lack thereof). Thank God screenwriter Jeanne Rosenberg added additional plot points, even if she should have added more... a lot more.
While the film takes place in Saudi Arabia, it was filmed in beautiful Namibia and South Africa; the breathtaking views of mountains, hilltops, valleys, and desert hills are an integral part of the story. The most engrossing scenes in the film combine both character and environment. One such scene involves Neera and the black stallion racing through the rugged desert terrain. It pairs the human spirit against the dangers of the desert. It feels slightly reminiscent of the pod racing sequence in The Phantom Menace, except more tender.
Unfortunately, the scenery absorbs the audience more than the film's plot and characters combined, and the horserace sequence reminds us of how good the film could have been with a little more effort. The Young Black Stallion has the right ingredients...it just doesn't have enough of them.
If you were hoping for more than 50 minutes of entertainment, the DVD adds a 14-minute prequel of sorts, plus a handful of featurettes about the making of the film.