Black Beauty, the iconic 1877 novel written by Anna Sewell, has sold over 50 million copies. The original story is set in England and told from the first-person point of view of the horse, Black Beauty, a gelding whose life is full of hardship and cruelty before finally retiring in the countryside as a happy and loved animal. Sewell wrote the book to promote kindness and sympathy towards horses and raise awareness of how badly treated many working horses were at the time (and still are).
It was an instant success and spawned several film and television adaptations; the 1994 version directed by Caroline Thompson is one of the best. Now we have the beloved horse story being “Disneyfied” for a contemporary audience.
Gone is Victorian England, and instead this latest “inspiration” takes place in the modern-day American west, where a young teenage girl named Jo Green (played by Mackenzie Foy) is coping with family tragedy only to connect with a wild mustang that was caught as part of a rescue effort. Black Beauty’s character has also been transformed not only into a wild mustang, but into a mare, voiced by English actress Kate Winslet. The lives of Black Beauty and Jo become intertwined and the wild mustang helps to heal the emotional wounds of the girl. But when the horse is eventually sold, their parting is difficult, to say the least.
While this adaptation has changed a lot of Sewell’s characters, location, era and plot, the essential tale of a horse’s life as it is sold from owner to owner, some more kind than others, remains. In this version, as Jo goes through her own ups and down that mirror that of Black Beauty, she seeks to one day reunite with the mare that saved her life. Any guesses as to the ending?
While it’s tough not to dwell on the substantial “reimagining” of this classic story – after all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – the trailer certainly brings a tear to the eye and is no doubt worth checking out. Black Beauty starts streaming on Disney+ on November 27.
Watch the trailer: