Nothing pulls children's emotions more than the idea of losing their parents. So, like hundreds (maybe thousands) of other children's movies, Running Free begins with not one, but two orphans.
Born in 1914 on a steamer headed for South Africa, Lucky (a horse) is separated from his mother when she is recruited to work in an African copper mine. Already fatigued from his long arduous journey, the young colt lays in the corner of a boxcar prepared to die.
Richard (Chase Moore), a boy with no fixed address, works in the stables owned by the mine's boss (Jan Decleir). Finding Lucky, he determines to bring the horse back to health. However his employer isn't happy about having a common animal in the same stable as the pedigreed Caesar, his noble stallion. Amazingly, because we can hear what these horses are saying, Caesar couldn't agree more, setting up an ongoing confrontation between the four-legged actors.
But ultimately it is a much bigger conflict that ends these petty issues when World War I begins and enemy airplanes threaten to blast the railroad tracks connecting this isolated community to the rest of the world. With bombs dropping on their town, the employees abandon it in minutes, leaving the livestock to fend for themselves. Alone once more, Lucky--who thinks all horses deserve to run free-- determines to discover a rumored hidden lake among the sandy hills of the surrounding desert.
For young children, the landscapes, !Xika (Maria Geelbooi), and her fellow Bushman friends (all dressing in typical tribal garb), may be of greater interest than Lukas Haas's narration which gives voice to Lucky's thoughts (Lucky acts as interpreter for the other animals). As well, children may be saddened or concerned by the eventual death of Lucky's mother (are we surprised?), an off-screen spanking administered to Richard, and the air raid of the settlement.
In actual fact, the Namibian Desert does have wild horses, which are believed to have originated from German mining operations prior to World War I. With such an intriguing premise, this movie should have been a run-away success. Instead it comes off a little lame.