War Horse: A Christmas Present For The Family

"War Horse"- Spielberg's Christmas Gift

The newest Spielberg release War Horse is coming to theaters just in time for families to slide into the Christmas holidays to escape for a couple of hours. I took my wife and 12-year-old boy to the special screening of the film since it won’t be released until Christmas day. This is a period movie set before and during World War I and focuses on a young man, Albert Narracott played by Jeremy Irvine and the horse that he raises and teaches to unlock and harness an indomitable spirit that carries him through a great deal in this movie. While the main character “Joey” the horse, is an unquestioned hero,  there are a number of heroes in this movie and a good number of villains as well that help tell a rather complicated and intertwined story that tests this horse to the core.

In general, movies that feature animals can be a little sappy and unrealistic because the story tends to want to pin human type emotions and logic to them making them not as believable, but this movie somehow works because Joey responds to the kindness from both sides of the war, not just the guys wearing the white helmets. The movie does have some inspirational moments that will provoke some tears and in my sitting of this movie produced a couple of rounds of applause. While Spielberg’s director stamp is seen in a number of ways in this movie, it is a little bit predictable and lacked some of the unexpected twists that many of his films have included. Even the ending of the movie, without giving it away, was shot in a dramatic red sky background with the actor’s silhouettes finishing the movie in a way that made me think I was watching the end of  Gone with the Wind.

Despite these shortcomings, this is a well made film that tells it’s story in a dramatic and effective way. It’s rated PG-13 for war violence that could be disturbing for kids younger than middle school, but nothing like we’ve seen in other Spielberg war films. Something else to consider, especially if you or your kids are horse lovers. It may be tough to watch Joey being abused as a beast of burden hauling heavy artillery uphill and at one point gets caught up in a spiderweb of barbed wire. My wife really liked the movie because it was not only a good believable story, but it underscored human traits you don’t see in films much these days…like honor and respect for family, friends and having the courage to do something you’re afraid to do.  My son thought it was entertaining and said his favorite part of the movie was when a British soldier and a German soldier each braved beyond the protection of their war trenches to free Joey from that barbed wire.

It’s a little over 2 hours long, but it doesn’t seem like it. I recommend this film giving it three and a half stars out of 5.  I know it’s not perfect, but this is a jewel compared to the shallow or self-consumed genre that comes out many times in theaters these days. A great family movie if you’re kids are not too young.

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