The scenery and photography are spectacular but the script and acting are not in Simon Wincer’s IMAX prequel to Carroll Ballard’s fondly-remembered 1979 flick about a boy and his horse. The earlier picture had extraordinary cinematography by Caleb Deschanel, and this new one is nicely shot by Reed Smoot, who’s done a slew of pictures in the big-screen format (as well as conventional movies like the original “Homeward Bound”). But “The Young Black Stallion” is the sort of tepid family fare that’s best described as nice. It won’t disappoint parents looking for somewhere a bit special to take their children for a holiday treat, but the family isn’t likely to leave the theatre feeling they’ve seen a classic.
The big change this time around is that “The Young Black Stallion” is the story of a girl and her horse. In North Africa during the closing days of World War II, Neera (Biana Tamimi) has been sent away from home by her grandfather Ben Ishak (Richard Romanus) for security reasons. The caravan in which she’s traveling across the desert, however, is attacked by a band of thieves, and Neera is left to fend for herself in the wild. Fortunately she’s befriended by a wild colt whose mother has been trapped and led off by the same band. Girl and horse find their way back to her grandfather’s house, which is deserted but for the old man, who’s been forced to sell off his entire stable of steeds, and a single loyal servant, the boy Aden (Patrick Elyas). To win back grandfather’s honor, as well as some horses to replenish his herd (including the colt’s mother, which just happens to be a beloved mare released earlier into the wild by Ben Ishak), Neera decides to ride the black stallion, which she names Shetan, in an annual tribal race against the fastest steeds and finest horsemen in the region. Any chance she’ll win?
“The Young Black Stallion” is obviously hokum of the most old-fashioned sort, and the acting is strictly functional, but the scenery is impressive, especially in the big-screen format, and the photography is fine. The concluding race, though it’s hardly going to rival those in “Seabiscuit.” and seems to run on awfully long, is exciting enough to keep viewers, especially younger ones, interested if not leaping from their seats. In short, at about half the length of the original “Black Stallion,” it provides about 50% of its entertainment value; but that may be enough for grownups at a time when good family fare is curiously rare on conventional movie screens.