YOUNG BLACK STALLION, THE
Fleeing a raid by bandits in postbellum North Africa, young Neera (Biana Tamimi) becomes lost in the desert. She struggles through the harsh terrain until she finds the safety of her grandfather, Ben's house. Ben Ishak (Richard Romanus) is the most successful racehorse trainer of the region, but has had to sell off every one of his champion Arabian steeds just to survive during the upheavals of the war. He tells Neera that they should be content just to have a roof over their heads. But Neera has other ideas, involving an imposing black colt she befriended in the wilderness.
Review by Brad Green:
Just last week, I read a lengthy magazine feature on racehorse trainer Gai Waterhouse. It left the impression she shares two important attributes with her finest steeds: she's bred in the purple and she puts in the effort. Her late father, Tommy Smith, is Australia's most legendary trainer and as far as work ethic is concerned, Gai's up long before the sun each day to put her charges through their trackwork and then it's hours of chores around the stable, sales ring operations, client liaison and business administration before catching a few hours sleep prior to the next morning's action. Compared to the cute little girl at the heart of this story she's a mug.
Neera, who has the exotic features of an Arabian princess and the serene gaze of a Zen Buddhist, knows how to succeed the easy way. Like Gai, she's got the right pedigree - her grandfather was the most successful trainer in their nook of the desert until he lost his horses amidst wartime mayhem - but Neera's not one for the hard slog when it comes to returning the family to glory. First she stumbles across a budding Phar Lap wandering the wilderness, and then faster than the Horse Whisperer can mutter "how does she do it?", she tames the high-spirited steed with a drink of water and a peck on the nose. If that's not enough she sets about thumbing her nose at Gai's arduous routine, by trotting her potential champ round her grandfather's stable a couple of times and declaring it ready to conquer the local derby.
This race across the desert makes the Melbourne Cup look like a canter in the park for show ponies. Steep hills, rocky outcrops and twists around the sand dunes must be negotiated before the horses charge together under a tight arch in a drive to the finish line. As they cross it, so does the story. But if the plot could fit on the back of a losing TAB ticket, and provides approximately the same value, the redemption of the film is of course its equine stars and scenery. Thundering hooves on desert sands, set against blazing suns and dramatic vistas are winning material on the Imax screen. These are beautiful beasts, and when their riders hit the accelerator their nostrils flair, their eyes bulge out from their handsome heads and their flanks gleam with perspiration as they stride out with galloping actions that look like they've been engineered by formula one teams. None is more beautiful than the eponymous equine, its black coat shimmering against the sun-drenched panorama.
As an animation, the cartoonish story would be next-to-impossible to sit through. At 45 minutes the pure aesthetics provide decent entertainment for any age, although it's young girls going through that horse worshipping phase who will be the biggest fans. I think Gai Waterhouse will like it too. Her genuine love for horses should overcome any chagrin at the ease of the precocious young trainer's success. Besides there's at least one aspect in which Gai still has it all over the little Arabian girl; Neera's headscarfs are simply no match for even the most modest of Gai's celebrated hats.
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YOUNG BLACK STALLION, THE (G)
CAST: Richard Romanus, Biana Tamimi, Patrick Elyas, Gérard Rudolf, Ali Al Ameri, Andries Rossouw
PRODUCER: Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Fred Roos
DIRECTOR: Simon Wincer
SCRIPT: Jeanne Rosenberg (novel by Walter Farley, Steven Farley)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Not credited
EDITOR: Terry Blythe, Bud S. Smith, M. Scott Smith
MUSIC: William Ross
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Art direction: Zack Grobler
RUNNING TIME: 45 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: IMAX
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 1, 2004