A captivating story of a boy and his horse, The Black Stallion is a delight for the whole family. Blessed with a sublime cinematography, love for nature and understated performance, it’s simply irresistible to all the family.
It’s 1946 and young Alec Ramsey(Kelly Reno) is sailing with his father on a boat off the East Coast of Africa. While onboard, Alec discovers an black Arabian Stallion that he becomes intrigued by. Though warned to stay away by the fearsome owner, Alec refuses to. Later that night, a violent storm hits the ship, throwing Alec and the horse overboard. They are the only survivors from the storm as Alec manages to pull on the ropes around the horse. When he awakens, he is on a deserted island. Armed with the penknife his later father gave him and resourcefulness, he learns to survive. The horse also made it to the island at first, both keep a distance from each other. Over time, however Alec wins the horse over gives the horse the name The Black. They become inseparable from that moment on as a bond is solidified. Eventually, Alec is rescued and makes sure The Black comes with him. Back home, Alec’s mother( Teri Garr) is overjoyed to see him but doesn’t quite understand the bond between her son and his horse. Alec comes across old horse trainer Henry Dailey( Mickey Rooney) accidentally when The Black runs away. Henry hasn’t raced in years but you can sense he feels a bit of regret and nostalgia creeping his way once he finds The Black. Following a bit of hostility between them, Alec and Henry become friends and Henry rekindles his love of horses with a dream of racing The Black. After a few mishaps and hurdles, Alec and Henry enter to the horse into the race and hope for success with what they truly believe is not just a horse, but a supremely special one.
Director Carroll Ballard is the perfect choice to direct this heartwarming adventure. His love for nature and the relationships humans share with the animal kingdom are splendidly evoked. Some could write the movie off as as sickly as too much sugar, yet Ballard knows how to keep us invested without resorting to overt sentimentality. Aided by the arresting cinematography of Caleb Deschanel and vivid camerawork, the friendship at the core of The Black Stallion comes to life. The main sections on the island are largely wordless and though that might sound boring to some viewers, it certainly isn’t the case. The unspoken bond between Alec and the horse is observed with nuance and eventual trust; much like a friendship between humans. We watch as Alec wins the horse over and the horse comes to respect him and it’s very beautifully portrayed. The childlike sense of wonder and excitement is imbued within the DNA of The Black Stallion and it definitely pleases the crowd with this touch. And though many may see where the story is heading when he returns to land, they will no doubt be impressed by the eventual outcome and how things play out to a rousing and joyous finale. It’s a movie with a heart that’s sole goal is to be inspiring and for the whole family, and on that score alone it’s a winner. Carmine Coppola contributes an eclectic score that mixes Middle Eastern percussion and a soaring orchestral feel that is truly a thing of beauty. It imprints itself on your mind and is just beautifully orchestrated with obvious craftsmanship and phenomenal skill at arousing emotion.
Young Kelly Reno is full of life and wonder as the freckle-faced Alec. He’s ideal casting for the role and a genuinely convincing child actor that isn’t cloying or prone to overly annoying child acting. Mickey Rooney has fun as the slightly grouchy but brought back to life horse trainer, discovering what he’s missed for so long. Rooney is subtle yet sparkling with revived energy; both are exactly the notes he needs to star here. Just like the horse, he splendidly compliments Reno as the two things that mean the most to him. Teri Garr makes the most of her small part as Alec’s mother who doesn’t quite understand his link to the horse but comes around to the idea in a way only a mother could. Hoyt Axton is here in a brief role of father and given that he’s not on screen for long, he nails the part of adventurous dad that we miss when he’s gone. The two biggest stars however are Kelly Reno and the horse; they form the beating heart of The Black Stallion.
An outstanding, life-affirming and gentle film that knows how to touch the heart with its story, acting and cinematography, The Black Stallion is a champion.