Caroline Thompson has been a wonder worker in her screenplays, Edward Scissorhands about an outsider and The Secret Garden about the transformation of a bratty girl into a caring person. Black Beauty marks her debut as a director and it is an auspicious one. Thompson's screen adaptation of Anna Sewell's 1877 novel is true to the letter and to the spirit of this classic children's story. Black Beauty, a black colt with a white star on its head, looks back over his life and notes, "Horses don't get to choose the people in our lives. For us it's all chance."
The proud stallion is raised alongside his mother in the countryside. As a young colt, he is sold to a kindly family who live on an idyllic estate. There he falls in love with Ginger, a frisky mare. Black Beauty saves the man who looks after him in a storm and, in turn, is rescued from a burning stable by a boy. However, fate intervenes and sends Black Beauty and Ginger to some cruel aristocrats who try to break the spirits of both horses in order to make them appear more fashionable. Despite some pleasant moments with a working-class London taxi-driver, Black Beauty ends up as a horse for rent and then as a slave-laborer pulling grain wagons.
Animals do have feelings and souls which they express in affection, play, and pleasure. The film's strong suit is that it draws us into the experience of this horse who goes gaga for oats, loves to run free, and is responsive to the attention of Ginger and the care of those who cherish him. The story is an especially important one for children to see since it reveals the vulnerability of animals, how they suffer at the hands of thoughtless people and how much pleasure they feel when touched by human kindness.