Movie Review: American Mustang

About American Mustang 3D
…to create a film that would highlight the issues facing wild horses and spur a national dialogue about how best to protect them. The end result is a film as entertaining as it is compelling, uniquely weaving dramatic documentary footage of horses in the wild with an engaging coming-of-awareness story about a young girl’s growing affection and concern for a newly rescued wild mustang.

2823a0bf6e6c879202d003e3d9e1bddaA week ago I went out with a group of fellow SEO volunteers to watch a special 3-D screening of the new documentary “American Mustang.”

I was very excited about this screening. First, I love horses and anything remotely horse-related: movies, books, art, photos. You name it, if you put a horse in or on it, you’ve increased my likelihood of purchase by at least 50%.

Second, the issue of the mustang in American is an interesting and controversial one. I was really looking forward to watching a documentary exploring the issue.

Third, the producers of the movie, have an association with Montgomery Creek Ranch (a private wild horse sanctuary in Northern California), the sanctuary where the SEO horse Nick went to live.

Finally, and not be underestimated, I was going to a horse movie screening with a bunch of horse-crazy friends!

 

Review

Unfortunately, and I really hate to say this, I was disappointed by American Mustang.

On the pro side it had lovely footage and high production values; frankly, the horse footage alone was worth the ticket. I didn’t care for the 3-D (it made me a little dizzy) but it certainly was a lot of fun.

However, the cons pretty much made this movie a wash for me. The mustang controversy was discussed, but not in any in-depth, meaningful way. It was essentially told from the side of mustang activists with BLM and ranchers as the bad guys. While I am, essentially, in agreement with the mustang activist side of the argument, there is more to this issue than the romantic notion that “wild horses should run free.”

Here are several articles about the mustang roundups that touch on some of the issues; I couldn’t find any truly unbiased articles:

In my opinion, the producers missed a gem of a story in not focusing on the round up and fate of the White Mountain herd. That was the story I wanted to hear.

Instead, the producers spent a lot of time on the “engaging coming-of-awareness story about a young girl’s growing affection and concern for a newly rescued wild mustang” sub plot. I found it overly sweet, but also untrue. Teenagers gentle mustangs all the time! Why did the producers choose a story about a horse being “too wild” for this girl who loved him.

Finally, and perhaps the item that rankled the most, there was almost nothing about natural horse methods and how effective they can be, especially with mustangs. Instead, they showed a more old-fashioned, cowboy-style approach using ropes, a round pen, and a lot of running and bucking. If this image had been included with some explanations, or even worked into a “clash of cultures” story line, I would have more been more receptive. Instead, this method was essentially used to show how mustangs don’t make good riding partners. I believe the quote was, “Occasionally there is a nice one [sic. mustang], but usually they are a lot of work.”

This movie pretty much missed the mark for me; it tried to be a hybrid of documentary and tale and didn’t succeed very well at either. I think the producers let their passion for the free mustang cause over rule the need for a quality documentary on the subject.

More Horse Movies

My plan today (and the last few days) was to write this review; as if in response, on Facebook a list of the 50 Best Horse Movies appeared. I couldn’t let this pass without a comment (just in case after this review you were jonesing for a horse movie and were swayed from “American Mustang.”

Editor John Wilkinson put together his own horse movie review… “The horse serves as the vehicle to which family relationships are both strained and triumphantly healed, then we all share a good cry.” |Top 10 Horse Movies Ever Made

  1. War Horse: War Horse is an inspiring 2011 film about the bond between a man and his horse. This remarkable  story explores the power of love and friendship during a time of war. Tara’s review: I haven’t seen this yet as I’m not sure I can handle the potential for horse violence.
  2. Seabiscuit: Set in the depression-era, Seabiscuit tells the true story of an undersized racehorse who inspired the nation. Tara’s review: Good.
  3. The Man From Snowy River: The Man From Snowy River follows 18 year-old Craig, who has to work to get his family’s farm back on its feet following the loss of his father. Tara’s review: Good.
  4. Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron: Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron tells the story of a wild stallion (so wild, he could only be a cartoon) as he travels across the western frontier. Tara’s review: Good.
  5. National Velvet: National Velvet stars a young Liz Taylor as Velvet Brown, a young equestrian who wins a downtrodden horse in a lottery and tries to turn him into a champion. Tara’s review: Good, but not enough horses.
  6. The Black Stallion: After surviving a shipwreck that has left young Alec stranded on an island with a mysterious Arabian stallion, the boy and the horse are forced to find common ground. The Black Stallion tells the story of their rescue and the bond they form as they prepare to race the fastest horserace in the country. Tara’s review: Good; some of the most beautiful horse footage ever done, but the story is crap (nothing like the book.)
  7. Secretariat: This 2010 Disney film relives Big Red’s unrivaled dominance on the racetrack and his owner’s determination to get him there. Tara’s review: Excellent.
  8. Champions: Bob Champion and his horse Aldaniti overcome (what else?) numerous obstacles in this 1981 film, based on a true story. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  9. Hidalgo: Hidalgo tells the story of a Pony Express courier and his horse, Hidalgo, who together travel to Arabia to compete in a legendary horse race. Tara’s review: Excellent.
  10. Shergar: Based on a true story, an Irish racehorse is kidnapped by the Irish Republican Army, which did not heed the memo: “Keep the horses out of this.” Tara’s review: Unseen.
  11. Dreamer: Inspired By A True Story: Starring an impossibly adorable Dakota Fanning, Dreamer tells the story of a horse-crazy little girl and her mission to rehabilitate an injured horse. Based on a…yeah. Tara’s review: Excellent.
  12. The Horse Whisperer: The Horse Whisperer is a film about a handsome horse trainer (Robert Redford) who helps a young girl (Scarlett Johansson) and her horse on the road to recovery after a traumatizing riding accident. Tara’s review: Good.
  13. The Derby Stallion: Starring a young Zac Efron, The Derby Stallion explores the bond between a former trainer and a defiant 15-year old boy with a passion for horses. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  14. All Roads Lead Home: All Roads Lead Home follows the life changing relationship between a girl, a horse, and a dog (aka the Holy Trinity) following a tragic accident. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  15. Horse Sense: Horse Sense tells the story of two cousins and their month-long adventure on the family ranch. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  16. Virginia’s Run: Following the death of her mother in a horse-riding accident, a teenage girl cares for the foal of her mother’s horse. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  17. A Horse For Danny: The made-for-TV tale of a young girl and her search for a winning horse for her horse-trainer uncle. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  18. Running Free: Running Free chronicles an Arabian colt born into slavery during WWI and one boy’s pursuit to set him free. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  19. Black Beauty: Taking place in 1870′s England, Black Beauty is the stallion narrating the circle of life in this family favorite. Tara’s review: Excellent.
  20. Flicka: Starring Tim McGraw, Flicka is about a young girl’s attempt to tame a wild mustang and make it her own, while proving to her father that she has what it takes to take over the family ranch. Tara’s review: Good.
  21. The Horsemasters: The Horsemasters follows a group of students as they work tirelessly to earn the all-important British Horse Society certification. These things aren’t just handed out as party favors, you know. Tara’s review: Excellent.
  22. The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit: Exploring the search for purpose in a business dominated world, The Horse in the Gray Flannel revolves around a businessman and his use/exploitation of his daughter’s horse to market and promote a stomach medication. Obviously. Tara’s review: Excellent.
  23. Phar Lap: An incredible true story, Phar Lap was a beloved Australian racehorse in the 1930′s. The film explores his successful and dramatic life as he races in events across Europe and in the United States. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  24. Something to Talk About: This 1995 film starring Julia Roberts and Dennis Quaid follows Grace (Roberts), the daughter of a horse breeder (Robert Duvall), after she finds out her husband had an affair. Tara’s review: Okay, but not enough horses. I don’t know why it’s on this list.
  25. Ladyhawke: This beautiful film is set in medieval France and is a favorite for many horse and fantasy fans, but not nerds. Nope. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  26. The Electric Horseman: A former rodeo cowboy is hired to be a spokesperson for a cereal company in Las Vegas but runs away in costume on an electric-lit horse in this 1979 romance-adventure starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. Make sense? Tara’s review: Unseen.
  27. A Day At The Races: A Day At The Races is the Marx Brothers take on a veterinarian posing as a human doctor, a racehorse owner, and a misfit racehorse, who, together, try to keep a sanitarium open. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  28. Miracle of the White Stallions: General George Patton and the U.S. Army rescue the famed Lipizzan Stallions of the Spanish Riding School from the dangers of World War II. Tara’s review: Excellent.
  29. Into the West: Two impoverished gypsy boys in Dublin go on an epic adventure when they follow a mysterious white horse into the Connemara. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  30. Casey’s Shadow: A boy and his father raise a foal and train him all the way to the All American Quarter Horse Futurity. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  31. All the Pretty Horses: Based on the stirring novel by Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses stars Matt Damon as a Texas Rancher on an intense journey to Mexico following the death of his father. Tara’s review: Good, but only a couple of really good horse scenes.
  32. Let It Ride: After a cab driver learns about a horse race that’s about to be fixed, he wins big. Ignoring the advice of those around him, he decides to bet it all on a horse named Hot to Trot. What could go wrong? Tara’s review: Unseen.
  33. Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken: Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken is the story of a teenage runaway during the Depression who lands work as a stable hand for a girl-and-horse high diving act, though she dreams of being a diving girl herself. Tara’s review: Excellent.
  34. Moondance Alexander: When a spirited teen finds a lost pinto pony, she returns the horse to its owner, but convinced the horse has the potential to be a champion jumper, she has the owner train her and the horse for the Bow Valley Classic. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  35. Ruffian: The true story of the legendary filly, Ruffian, from her rise to stardom in the 1970′s, to her tragic downfall on the racetrack. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  36. Two Bits and Pepper: When two girls are kidnapped for ransom, their horses, Two Bits and Pepper, hatch a plan to rescue them. Not based on a true story. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  37. Saving Winston: A troubled teen finds a troubled horse and the two embark on a path to redemption. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  38. The Silver Stallion / The Silver Brumby: A mother tells her daughter a story about the Prince of the Brumbies, which were feral horses in Australia. The brumby is supposed to find its place, but is threatened as one man tries to capture and tame it. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  39. The Long Shot: A woman and her daughter move to Colorado after her husband leaves. She finds peace and healing (and maybe a little love) while working on a horse farm and ends up entering her horse in a high-stakes riding competition. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  40. Misty: Two siblings set their hearts on owning a wild horse named The Phantom. Caught in the town’s annual roundup to thin out the herd, the siblings must outbid everyone. The Phantom has a surprise for the kids: a foal named Misty. Paternity tests are pending. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  41. Racing Stripes: A zebra thinks he’s a racehorse in this charming comedy. With the help of a teenage girl, he works to fulfill his racing dream and accept himself for who he really is. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  42. In Pursuit of Honor: In Pursuit of Honor tells the story of a United States Cavalry detachment who defies orders by refusing to slaughter its horses. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  43. The Horse Boy: The Horse Boy is an inspiring documentary based on the autobiography of a father’s journey to help his autistic son. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  44. Dark Horse: Dark Horse is a 1992 film about a teenager’s required community service at a local stable. When tragedy strikes, the girl learns more about strength and courage than ever before. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  45. Tonka: A 1958 Walt Disney Western, Tonka is about a US cavalry horse that survived the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  46. It Ain’t Hay: After giving a horse candy and accidentally killing it, Abbott and Costello set out to make amends in this 1943 comedy. Sounds like a hoot. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  47. Boots Malone: This 1952 film explores the seedy side of racetrack life. Boots Malone follows the story of an agent who has fallen on hard times after his star jockey is killed. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  48. The Killing: Centered around a racetrack heist and the murder of a racehorse, this black and white film noir is gritty and bold. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  49. Wall of Noise: Wall of Noise is a 1963 racetrack drama about a respected horse trainer who becomes the owner of a racehorse with the help of another horse owner’s neglected wife. This film explores the power of love, wealth, and dedication. Tara’s review: Unseen.
  50. The Rocking Horse Winner: A 1949 fantasy film features a boy who is able to accurately predict the winner of horse races by rocking back and forth on his own rocking horse. Tara’s review: Unseen.

A few movies didn’t appear on this list that I need to mention:

Buck: BUCK, a richly textured and visually stunning film, follows Brannaman from his abusive childhood to his phenomenally successful approach to horses. A real-life “horse-whisperer”, he eschews the violence of his upbringing and teaches people to communicate with their horses through leadership and sensitivity, not punishment.

Cloud PBS Nature series:

Oregon Field Guide: Wild Horses in Crisis

Horses

Horsepower (with Martin Clunes)

Legendary White Stallions

Horse and Rider