Steven Spielberg's new film, 'War Horse,' is racking up the accolades and being touted as a movie for the whole family. But given its subject matter -- a boy gives up his beloved horse Joey to the war effort -- is it really okay for small children? The movie is rated PG-13 for "intense sequences of war violence," but that warning from the MPAA doesn't begin to cover the trauma that Joey (not to mention several humans) undergoes.


SPOILERS ahead.

1. Heartbreaking goodbyes. Albert (Jeremy Irvine) is forced to sell his horse, Joey, to a soldier headed for the front, but that's just the beginning of a series of wrenching farewells as Joey is handed off from owner to owner, each of whom forms an instant bond with the noble creature.

2. Violence. This is a war film and there are several battle sequences, one of them so intense it might have been taken out of Spielberg's R-rated opus 'Saving Private Ryan.' There are no exploding limbs or extreme gore, but several characters we've grown attached to do meet their demise.

3. Human deaths. Speaking of deaths, the human death toll is mostly rendered off-screen (a companion-in-arms is engulfed by gas, a letter arrives to tell of the death of another), but the war definitely takes its toll. Even younger characters aren't spared, although their deaths are conveyed with some discretion.

4. Animal deaths. We won't spoil you as to whether Joey lives or dies, but he does endure some of the most extreme trauma any screen animal has ever had to suffer. In perhaps the most traumatic, a panic-stricken Joey is entangled in barbed wire and unable to free himself. Bizarrely, this horrific scene leads to a lighthearted exchange in which two soldiers from opposing armies work together to free him. You could argue what's more upsetting: Shots of the bodies of dozens of horses littered on the battlefield or when a soldier is ordered to put Joey out of his misery by shooting him in the head. One prolonged animal death in particular will have you sobbing your eyes out.

Bottom line: Even though the film does have its soaring, inspirational moments and lots of glorious horse scenes, it's far too violent and intense for young children. Our advice: Don't bring anyone under 12.

[Photo: Disney]





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