Black Beauty (2020)

A nice story but nothing more

What it’s about

A wild horse, transported to Birtwick Stables, comes across Jo Green, a lively teenage girl. Over a period of time, the two develop a friendship that helps Jo overcome challenges.

My thoughts

This is not the type of film I would normally watch, it was more a film that I watched due to the fact that it was not my turn to pick a film. It is a remake, in fact it is a remake of a remake of a remake and in fact there has actually been eight versions of this film made over the years, there have also been a number of TV series.

I have not seen any of them nor have I read the book, which initially spawned the Black Beauty world. It was penned by British author Anna Sewell back in 1877, mainly as a way to to expose the bad treatment of horses and other animals and call for people to give them better treatment.

Anyhow, one thing that all versions of Black Beauty have in common is that the story is told from the perspective of the horse. This film follows that pattern and uses a voice-over so that we can hear what Black Beauty is thinking.

Kate Winslet voices Black Beauty and tells us exactly what Black beauty is thinking, and tells us exactly what Black Beauty is thinking is the problem with this film. Warhorse was a brilliant film which followed a horse throughout the course of its life without the need for a narrator telling us what he was thinking.

The fact that in this film they decided that they needed to tell us what Black Beauty was thinking highlights the problem that showing us was not enough, meaning the visuals didn’t do a good enough job of telling the story which is why they had to have been a writer tells the story, and what the narrator constantly and repeatedly tells us it is that Black Beauty is thinking is that she is desperate to see Jo.

Which is fine, but if you having to tell us this then clearly you have not done a good enough job of showing us this which is the problem.

Now don’t get me wrong there is a nice story being told, and the acting is decent, the pacing is acceptable, even the fact that they have changed the gender of the horse from a male to a female is not a problem. Even the fact that the message of the entire series that animals should be treated better is ominously missing is not a problem.

Even the fact that at the film’s beginning, the opening scenes especially, the footage looks more like a Lloyds bank advert than something from a feature film is not a problem. Even the fact that the most important message of the entire novel, that people should be nicer to both animals and each other is missing, is not a problem.

The problem is that Black Beauty is supposed to be all of the latter and yet this none of the latter which begs the question of how is this film Black Beauty. It feels like in reality the heart and soul of Black Beauty is missing from this version of Black Beauty, and the fact that I, a person who is not a fan of the series and am able to easily pick up on this fact is really telling fact about how good of a Black Beauty film this is.

Though perhaps that is inevitable, horses these days are treated better in many ways than a lot of humans so perhaps in the revamp Disney felt it best to simply focus on a story of a young girl bonding with a horse.

Maybe they made the right call, who knows. But that’s what this film is, a story about a young girl who was torn from her family through great loss, befriending a young horse who was also torn from her family, and together forming an unbreakable bond.

That means this is not a story of a horse, this is a story of a young girl and her horse, which is told verbally through the perspective of the horse but which is told visually through the perspective of the girl. Meaning it is more the girl’s story than the Black Beauty’s.

In terms of whether it is any good, it tells a nice story and I’m always a fan of nice stories, with that in mind this gets a thumbs up from me but only as typical Disney film with a nice story. And it has to be said Black Beauty fans may be disappointed with this film.

​​Director: Ashley Avis

Writer: Ashley Avis

Genre: family, drama

Year: 2020

​Runtime: 110 minutes

The One and Only Ivan

A simple story told very well

What it’s about

The story for this film is derived from the true story of Ivan, a gorilla who for twenty-seven years lived in an American mall and never saw the light of day. It is of course a fictionalised account, the fact that you can talk probably gave that away. And that fictionalised account goes along the lines of Ivan, a gorilla, who lives in the Big Top Mall with his fellow animal acts, and a dog who as his best friend, sees his life change when a baby elephant named Ruby joins their act, and he makes a promise to her that she will see freedom.

My thoughts

This is one of those films where if you read the tagline it sounds like it is going to be one of those films which uses a real story to create a fictionalised typical Disney style straight to TV film.

Nothing wrong with that as Disney are very good at making such films, films which inevitably have that great feelgood factor to them. That is to say you know what you are getting, a grumpy person is set in their way, someone young comes in and changes everything, and they set off on a wondrous journey which after a few bumps along the way leads to a happy ending.

This film follows that MO to the T, but again that is not a bad thing and when the film starts you get the feeling that it is going to be a typical straight to TV style Disney film. Especially when the gorilla starts talking at the beginning, as good as the gorilla is it just reeks of low-budget.

And the chicken, there is a chicken, and that chicken to say the least the CGI is just terrible. They don’t even try to make it look real. But again that is just expected for what this film appears that it is going to be.

But this film is not what it appears it is going to be, it is in fact a lot more than it appears it is going to be, because to say the least if you can look past the poor CGI this film tells a simple and age-old story but it does so in a brilliant way.

Mike White derived the screenplay from a children’s book written by Katherine Applegate telling a fictionalised version of Ivan’s story and Thea Sharrock has done a great job at bringing that screenplay to life because it has to be said this is just one of those films that really pulls on the heartstrings. It will not blow your mind but that because it doesn’t want to, what this film wants to do is to leave you by the end with the feelgood factor, and it sure as heck will leave you by the end with that feelgood factor along with the feeling that it has been worth your while watching.

What that means is if you can look past the poor CGI and the fact that this is a heavily fictionalised account of Ivan’s true story (which is an amazing thing in itself), then this film is most definitely worth watching and fits the bill of an amazing story.

But like said it will only come across this way if you are willing to look beyond what it is not and see it for what it is. A very simple story told in a brilliant way.

All in all for that reason it gets a solid thumbs up from me.

​​Director: Thea Sharrock

Writer: Mike White

Genre: family, adventure, fantasy

Year: 2020

​Runtime: 95 minutes

Sonic The Hedgehog

Boisterous Family Fun

What it’s about

An extraterrestrial hedgehog named Sonic is discovered by a scientist who concocts evil plans to use his superpowers for his own selfish needs, but a local police officer helps Sonic fightback.

My thoughts

Is this an amazing film, no. But if you like Sonic The Hedgehog then there is a high probability you will like this film. Even if you don’t then there is still a high chance that you will like this film.

Some argue that Jim Carrey puts in a wooden performance, and it perhaps is a bit, but James Marsden’s performance as a local town cop who Sonic befriends makes up for any shortcomings as he has yet again proven that family films are what he does best.

All in all it is a fun film, has some great laughs in it, and has a nice touching story at its heart, the sort which everyone will be able to relate to. Basically Sonic is hiding from the world and inevitably is suffering the effects of loneliness, the question is will he be able to find a friend or will he have to leave Earth forever and spend his life alone on a lifeless planet.

Any person can guess what the answer will be, but that is the norm for films like this, what matters is the journey. And the journey is a good one, and has in it some great sequences, the best perhaps being the scene where Sonic finds himself caught in the middle of a bar brawl, in this scene to hilarious consequences he moves so fast everyone else is frozen in time.

But that means yes, at times this film does go a little over the top, perhaps expected from a film which has Jim Carrey as one of its stars, but in its defence it never stretches too far over so as to detract from the story. Meaning this film strikes that great balance between not taking itself too serious, but taking itself just serious enough to be taken seriously.

All in all a fun family film that both old and young can enjoy which means it gets a solid thumbs up from me.

Director: Jeff Fowler

Writer: Pat Casey and Josh Miller

Genre: action, adventure, family

Year: 2020

Runtime: 99 minutes

Jingle All the Way

Sometimes Wooden but Never Not Funny

What it’s about

Howard, a haggard salesman, promises his son a Turbo Man toy for Christmas. He is forced to fight every parent and travel all over town to get the toy after he forgets to buy it.

My thoughts

Basically if you like Arnold Schwarzenegger, like comedies and like Christmas films then in all probability you like this film. But if you are not a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger, are not big on comedies and are not big on Christmas films, then you will likely find this film a bit rubbish.

And it really is as simple as that. Actor/comedian Sinbad plays Arnold Schwarzenegger’s nemesis, and puts in an excellent performance helping to make this film a non-stop bundle of laughs. But as the narrative progresses it becomes clear that the main nemesis is the titular character’s neglect of his son.

And it is the resolution to this neglect that gives this film its feelgood factor, and is what makes this film truly worth watching. That is to say this film is more than just an endless bundle of laughs, it has substance.

Not much, but as much as can be expected from what is a typical non-terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger film. All in all, that added to the fact it is a gloriously fun watch makes it a worthy addition to any Christmas viewing list, meaning from me it’s a thumbs up.​

​Director: Brian Levant

Writer: Randy Kornfield

Genre: comedy, action, family

Year: 1996

​Runtime: 95 minutes

Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

A film that will make you truly believe

What it’s about

This is the third remake and arguably the best version of a timeless Christmas classic the story of which was first penned by Valentine Davies, and sees a lawyer and a little girl fighting to save Christmas by proving that a man claiming to be Santa Claus is the real thing.

What you will learn from watching it

​What this film does really well is capture the fact that it is people that make Christmas what it is. People fighting for each other, people uniting with each other, more importantly people willing to believe in each other.

And really that’s what this film is about, the power of belief. And no belief is more important than a child’s belief that he or she has the right to believe what they wish. And that’s what this film does best, show just how important it is for a person to not only be able to believe, but to be allowed to believe.

Is the story any good

What director Les Mayfield along with screenwriters George Seaton and John Hughes perhaps do best is bring the story into the 90s world, many a great story has failed on screen when brought into a modern setting, but this is not one of them.

With excellent performances all round, most notably Mara Wilson as six-year-old Susan Walker, but also Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle this is a film with a story that reaches deep and will most definitely make you believe that Christmas miracles can happen.

Final words

Any person who loves Christmas films will surely appreciate this film, but even those who are indifferent to Christmas films will likely enjoy it. Is it one of the best Christmas films out there, probably not but it does tell one of the best Christmas stories.

That means without a doubt this film gets a solid thumbs up from me.

Director: Les Mayfield

Writer: George Seaton and John Hughes

Genre: fantasy, family

Year: 1994

Runtime: 114 minutes

Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

A film that will make you truly believe

What it’s about

To save Christmas a lawyer and a little girl must prove that a man claiming to be Santa Claus is the real thing.

My thoughts

This is the third remake and arguably the best version of a timeless Christmas classic. With excellent performances all round, most notably Mara Wilson as six-year-old Susan Walker, but also Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle this is a film that will most definitely make you believe that Christmas miracles can happen.

Is it the best Christmas film out there, no. Is it one of the best Christmas stories out there, yes. That makes it definitely worth watching meaning from me it’s a thumbs up.

Director: Les Mayfield

Writer: George Seaton and John Hughes

Genre: fantasy, family

Year: 1994

Runtime: 114 minutes