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Running Free

The idea of having an adorable young horsey in the lead role is sure to

please animal lovers and tykes, but don"t expect this

sweet-verging-on-sappy family flick to start a stampede at the box



Our four-hoofed hero is Lucky, a plucky brown colt shipped to World War

I era South Africa to work at a mine. Though loved by a devoted boy

(Chase Moore), Lucky faces danger in the form of less-sympathetic humans

and Caesar, the fearsome black stallion that dominates the other horses.

Events conspire to force the protagonist into the open desert, where he

must learn to survive if he"s ever going to find his place in the world.


If Oscars were given out for animal performances, the various horses

portraying Lucky at different ages and the magnificent stallion playing

Caesar would certainly rate nominations. A majestic oryx and a

precocious pair of lion cubs make scene-stealing cameos. The humans in

the cast can"t hope to compete with the furred competition, though Maria

Geelbooi makes a strong impression as a noble young tribeswoman. The

least effective element is Lucas Haas" voiceover, inexplicably

American-accented, narrating Lucky"s thoughts in a manner that almost

invariably comes across as corny.


Russian helmer Sergei Bodrov records some breathtaking images of the

animals and desert, but he has less success trying to build momentum

with the loosely structured, episodic storyline. At times -- especially

during the action scenes -- the filmmakers are obviously working around

what real animals will and won"t do (the final fight between Lucky and

Caesar in particular cries out for some Hollywood-style animatronic


Bottom Line

With its painfully earnest tone, lack of adult-aimed humor and heavy

reliance on animal cuteness, this one"s strictly for kids.