Making the Grades
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then The Black Stallion may be one of film's best examples of using images to tell a story.
With a surprisingly limited amount of dialogue, the movie focuses on Alec Ramsey (Kelly Reno), a quiet young preteen who hangs back in the shadows while his gambling father (Hoyt Anton) plays cards during an ocean crossing. Left to his own designs for much of the time, the boy discovers a black Arabian stallion is also on board. Screaming and kicking wildly, the spirited horse is non-stop trouble for his handlers who struggle to calm the animal during the journey.
Then one night, flames break out on the ocean liner. Down in the hold, Alec hears the frantic charger thrashing in his stall while the passengers attempt to climb above board. Separated from his dad, Alec tries desperately to keep his feet under him on the tossing boat. But a knife-wielding stranger attacks him, stealing his life jacket and pushing him underfoot of the panic-stricken throng. Finally making it to the deck, Alec is thrown overboard into the rolling water. Sputtering to keep his head above the waves, he sees ?The Black,? who also escaped the sinking ship. Grabbing onto the horse's trailing halter rope, the two survivors eventually wash up on the sandy shore of a deserted island.
Living on seaweed and speared fish, the two castaways spend hours galloping along the sun-drenched shoreline seemingly untroubled by their predicament until a boatful of foreign fishermen find and rescue the pair. But life at home with his mother (Teri Garr) isn't quite the same for the timid boy that now has to endure the attention of classmates and neighbors who consider him a kind of epic hero.
The feisty mount isn't happy about being penned up in the family's backyard either. Dashing through an unattended gate, he escapes and ends up in the hands of a washed up jockey (Mickey Rooney) who lives outside of town. Despite Henry Daily's gruff exterior, he warms up to the spunky boy who comes looking for his horse. Awed by the animal's untapped speed, Henry agrees to educate Alec on the finer points of horse handling so the two can debut the Black in one of California's prestigious horse racing events.
Close-ups of the young actor, carefully crafted scenes and exquisite beachfront property make The Black Stallion a visual banquet. Unfolding from a gentle, childlike perspective, the script is also free of objectionable content, other than some tense moments during the sinking of the ship. And watching this magnificent stallion run unfettered along the beach with his agile rider is a scene guaranteed to capture the imagination of young and old horse lovers alike.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Black Stallion.
What tactics did Alec use to calm the Black? Why is it important to approach animals carefully? For tips on staying safe around animals go to kidshealth.org/kid/watch/house/animals.html.
Young readers might enjoy learning more about author Walter Farley and The Black Stallion series of books: