There are two types of Steven Spielberg movies. There are the escapist-genre films filled with spectacle, and there are the serious dramas that the Oscars adore. “War Horse” is most certainly the latter of those because it fits right in with most of his other previous sentimental and idealistic dramas.
“War Horse” takes advantage of the innocence of animals, specifically horses, and the bond that so many people feel to the creatures that offer us unconditional love. Spielberg’s film takes one of the most majestic and beautiful creatures that humans have been able to tame and follows it through a war that symbolizes the worst that human beings have to offer. The well-intentioned film spells out much too directly how we as a civilization take advantage of living things to advance our own petty goals.
“War Horse” is based on a book by British author Michael Morpurgo, which was also adapted into a Broadway play, about the journey of a horse named Joey through World War I as he meets and inspires people from both sides of the conflict. It’s really no wonder that the story was originally a children’s book, as the ideas and themes in the film are simple and easy to digest.
Another way the movie seems relatively appropriate for children is the odd lack of violence. Despite the fact that this is a war movie and war is filled with death, blood and despair, it is incredibly and even irresponsibly tame. Even the battle scenes refrain from showing the deaths of soldiers. A movie set during war should be an honest depiction of what war really is, and if a parent does not want their child to experience such a travesty of human civilization then they should not take their child to a movie set during a war.
“War Horse” is a movie that tries so very hard to be ultimately uplifting and inspiring, and it is difficult to do that in a movie about war and the horses used during World War I, most of whom died an anonymous death. The movie sugarcoats the journey of this horse, making him an impossibly inspiring figure.
The film is immensely idealistic, which is a characteristic I usually endorse and like in films, but unfortunately “War Horse” tries a bit too hard. The music of Spielberg’s most trusted composer, John Williams, is sweeping but emotionally manipulative. Spielberg has interesting things to say about bravery and our connection to our animals, but he does not let the story speak for itself.
Still, there are many who will easily fall for the movies sentimentality, especially those who are die-hard animal lovers and people of an older generation. Older people in particular who can remember the Hollywood movies of the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s will particularly feel nostalgia for the old-fashioned optimistic Hollywood pictures of filmmakers like John Ford.
It will be difficult for anyone to truly hate “War Horse” because it is so likable and good-natured, but that’s also the reason I can’t love the movie. Spielberg tries to get the audience to leave the theater feeling triumphant, but the treatment of horses and people during war is not at all a cause for celebration.