[box cover]

Running Free

If Mister Ed made a movie, it might look a lot like Running Free. Perhaps inspired by the sitcom about the talking horse and his human owner Wilbur, Running Free is told from the perspective of a horse named Lucky (voiced by Lukas Haas). Lucky just can't understand the antics of the horses and humans around him and, unfortunately for us, he just can't shut up about it. The year is 1914, and Lucky is born on a ship bound for Africa, where horses work in the copper mines. Traumatically separated from his mother when the ship lands, Lucky struggles to survive (for about five minutes) until he is befriended by an orphaned stable boy. Life is grim on the African plantation, which is peopled by all the typical players — a cruel master, his spoiled son who has it in for the stable boy, and the exceedingly ill-tempered and appropriately named stallion Caesar. On top of everything else, war is creeping closer to this isolated landscape, and eventually all the humans evacuate — leaving the horses to fend for themselves. But plucky Lucky is resourceful, and soon he finds a paradise in this desert outpost. He races back to the village and gathers up all the horses to bring them back to this oasis, where they are free to be themselves. Directed by Sergei Bodrov, Running Free is filmed in dull browns and bleak grays, and it's drowned in an overbearing score by Nicola Piovani. From the story perspective, the most obvious comparison is Carroll Ballard's lush 1979 movie The Black Stallion. But Ballard was insightful enough to let the visual images of his film tell the story, while the folks behind Running Free instead chose to fill nearly all of the screen-time with Lucky's insipid babblings — such as when he first meets Beauty, a potential girlfriend horse, and muses "Her father Caesar was angry to see us together. I was only the stable boy's horse — I wasn't good enough to play with his daughter." Lamentably, this family film is not a comedy (at least not intentionally) and even the most patient of children will find the talking-horse affectation grating after the first few scenes. After all, didn't we learn from Mister Ed that a horse is, well, just a horse? Blessedly short at a running-time of only 85 minutes, Running Free is presented in both widescreen or full-frame, with audio in DD 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 Surround. Theatrical trailer, talent files. Keep case.
—Kerry Fall

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