Recently we celebrated Memorial Day and I wanted to think of a war movie that would be appropriate for a family film recommendation. Most war films are rightly rated R (it is war after all and war is R rated) but I have made a commitment to not pick an R rated film for this list and I want to be consistent with that promise. So what could I pick? Then someone brought up Steven Spielberg’s underrated film War Horse and I immediately went ‘bingo’! It is the perfect choice! It has sobering elements a war film needs while not being too gratuitous or intense for the entire family.
You can see my youtube review here:
War Horse is based on a famous Broadway play that was in turn based on a book by Michael Morpurgo. I haven’t read the book or seen the play but I’m told it both are fantastic and that this is a faithful adaptation. It’s the kind of movie that makes you want to read the original source material because it is such a good film. It was also nominated for 6 Academy Awards including Best Picture and it earns each of those nominations.
In many ways War Horse is kind of like a new Black Beauty but set during World War 1. It tells the story of a spirited horse named Joey who is born in the countryside in England to a family with a boy named Albert. He and Joey make a strong bond with each other and Albert is the only person who can tame and train Joey. Unfortunately Albert’s father sells Joey to a soldier named Captain James played by Tom Hiddleston. He promises to take good care of Joey but war of course makes that difficult.
Captain James has a commander named Jamie Stewart played by Benedict Cumberbatch who leads the cavalry to charge against the Germans where they face machine gun fire. It is pretty intense stuff but the movie never extends the battle sequences too long so it doesn’t feel heavy handed or overbearing. I think kids will be able to handle it because by the time they are upset the movie will have moved on.
Eventually Joey ends up in the possession of German soldiers (David Kross and Leonard Carow) and a young French girl named Emilee (Celine Buckens). All the way you see the life of Joey and the history of the war at the same time. It’s a very absorbing story.
There is one segment which is very emotional involving Joey getting caught in barbed wire that might be upsetting for small children but it is also very moving.
All of the performances are excellent in War Horse as well as amazing cinematography by long time Steven Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kamiński. We also enjoy John Williams wonderful score and production design that gets you right into the time period and battles
World War 1 is a conflict not many kids know about so this could be a good learning experience for them. War Horse also has an old fashioned epic feel to it that you don’t see in many movies. It could be a nice way to introduce them to that type of storytelling. Next up could be Ben Hur or Gone with the Wind. War Horse is a good gateway to them.
Some parents might be nervous to show children a movie like War Horse but I think with a little bit of instruction and discussion it could be a good experience for them. We need to let them know about war without it being too traumatizing for them. They hear about war on the news and at school and so having some stories for them to process that news is a good thing.
Have any of you seen War Horse? I will be curious to hear feedback on this one. Let me know if you watch it with your family what the response is? Is it too traumatic for them or is it a positive experience? You can certainly use it as a great teaching moment for your kids about war, conflict and the noble way that both Joey and Albert live.
What are some of your favorite war movies and did you watch any growing up that made an impact on you? I know Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan greatly impacted me.
Thanks to all those who serve.