Michael's Movie Grade: B-
Note: This movie is only available on Disney+
If you are looking for an adaption that captures the beauty and power of the original book, this movie may not be for you, but if you want a good Disney film about horses this movie is a good choice.
This film is custom made for horse lovers, which means it is in many ways custom made for me. As someone who spends much more time around horses than dogs, I will be first to admit that this gives me a basis for this film over the plethora of dog movies that have became such a huge part of the movie world today. Yet I like this movie for more reasons than just the horses are pretty and I want to be best friends with all of them (which is definitely true). The relationship between Jo and Beauty is fantastic. Unlike many similar movies where the relationship feels forced in order to get easy emotional manipulation, this relationship feels real and earned. How Jo comes from not caring about horses to having Beauty as the center of her life is never rushed but happens at a natural and believable progression. Similarly how Beauty goes from hating humans to caring about Jo also feels natural and believable. This is a very sentimental movie and though there are a few scenes in which the sentimentality feels forced, there are many more scenes in which it feels perfectly natural and real and I found myself surprised that I was actually quite moved at times. This was because I truly cared about Jo and Beauty and really wanted them to live together in happy bliss. The use of narration by Beauty actually works pretty well. After hating the narration in such films as A Dog's Purpose or The Art of Racing in the Rain (not that taking out the narration could possibly make the latter even halfway decent), I excepted the narration here to be of the same ilk. Luckily it wasn't. There were very few of the unfunny animals don't understand anything humans do jokes and the narration actually fits the tone and emotion of the rest of the story and at times (dare I say) it enhanced it. The only complaint I have about the narration by the end of the movie, where that there were times it stated something verbally that we had already seen visually.
Unfortunately as much as I enjoyed the main characters, some of the supporting characters were handled very poorly. There are two teenage girls who talk like complete stereotypes (and not funny ones either). Adding to this is that these character act in ways that make no sense. For instance they pick on another teenage girl simply because she exists and likes a horse she works with. There are also your stereotypical villains. The worst of these is the mother of a girl who leases Beauty. She not only blames the horse when it is obvious her daughter is mistreating the animal, but she is an elitist snob in a way that would have been already an overused stereotypical movie character in the silent era, let alone in 2020. We have seen this character so many times before and she has no personality outside of her clichés. With this it is hard to take any scene she appears in seriously.
This is a faulted movie for sure (and yes the book is better), but what works is very well done and for me its virtues far overcame its faults.