A scene from 'Running Free'
Courtesy Photo
** stars 123 minutes | Rated: G
Opened: Friday, June 2, 2000
Directed by Sergei Bodrov

Starring Chase Moore, Jan Decleir, Maria Geelbooi & Lukas Haas (narration)


Pretty photography of running horses in wide-open spaces is about all this movie has to offer beyond predictability and annoyingly unceasing narration.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 11.14.2000


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Narrated to death, handsome but pandering kids' flick about foundling foal feels like it will never end

By Rob Blackwelder

Put Mr. Ed and Francis the talking mule in a room together and they still wouldn't yap as much as Lucky, the equine orphan hero of the overly-lengthy, overly-loquacious children's movie "Running Free."

Lucky is a beautiful brown horse born on a steamer taking beasts of burden to South Africa in 1914 for thankless work at a mining colony (insert slavery allusions here). He doesn't actually speak, it's not that kind of kid's movie. But he does incessantly narrate (with the voice of Lukas Haas) this utterly pedestrian parable about a foundling foal who befriends and similarly orphaned 10-year-old stable boy (Chase Moore) and grows up facing adversity, rivalry and World War I.

Pandering, obvious and a fidget-inspiring 123 minutes long, the movie's storyline is so basic that just about anyone who has seen a live-action Disney movie from the 1960s could have written a treatment for this script in an afternoon.

You got your burly, heartless mine boss (barrel-chested Belgian Jan Decleir) and his bratty, pugsy young son (an 8-year-old dandy with a riding crop) as antagonists for the boy. You got Caesar, the silvery black, purebred stallion with a special loathing for the ragamuffin Lucky -- and of course, Caesar's daughter, who loves the ratty brown runt.

You got your running away from home sequence with both horse and boy. After the war encroaches and the human population flees (taking the boy with them), you got Lucky striking out on his own in the parched African outback. Leopard, gibbons and bushmen, oh my!

And of course, you got your inevitable showdown when a grown and virile Lucky returns to the abandoned mining outpost to challenge mean ol' Caesar and lead the town's helpless horses to the meadow and lake oasis he's discovered in the nearby mountains.

The movie's best assets are its cogent, tribal-drum incidental music and its gorgeous cinematography (by Dan Laustsen, "Mimic"), full of sand-swept panoramas and slow-mo shots of flowing manes. Russian director Sergei Bodrov, who helmed 1996's Foreign Oscar nom "Prisoner of the Mountains," puts so much passion into "Running Free" that I almost feel guilty for dismissing it so roundly.

But for all its earnest effort and cinematic creativity, the core of this story is hackneyed and tedious. The only spark of freshness come from the lip service the picture pays to cultural diversity by having Lucky and his boy befriended by pretty, tribal bush girl when they run away.

Trimmed by a good 30 minutes and emancipated from its intrusive, non-stop narration, "Running Free" might have been an uncommonly heartening children's matinee. As is, however, all but horse-crazy little girls will likely be crawling the walls with boredom after the first couple reels.

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