War Horse: An Illustrated Review

by Lisa Hanawalt

I could write an entire book about horses and how into them I am, but let’s just say that I was a horse from ages eight to fourteen. Former classmates still ask me, “Were you that girl who drew ponies and crawled around on all fours ALL the time?” You guys, I’ve seen a lot of horse movies.

I somehow convinced my boyfriend’s family that going to see War Horse was a good idea. Thank you, Adam’s family! Sorry! Thank you!

Regardless of whether the movie was good or bad, I knew I’d enjoy Battle Equine as long as there were abundant shots of shiny horses galloping through fields. Here’s my review.


• Spielberg does us right and starts off with newborn colt-frolicking.

• The story gets going when an old drunk man buys War Horse at an auction. What and how much is a guinea?

• The old drunk guy then regrets buying such a spirited animal, but that’s okay, his Abercrombie & Fitch model son will give horse training a try!

• In case you’re unfamiliar with the genre, EVERY horse movie is about a plucky young person forming a special bond with an otherwise difficult and unruly horse. Because that’s the dream, for a wild creature to totally trust you and become your buddy. It’s the ultimate flattery. It’s also the ultimate disappointment when you take riding lessons and your horse doesn’t care about you and tries to rub you off on a tree.

• I’m disappointed they named him “Joey” instead of “War Horse.” Couldn’t they have at least named him something more horsey, like “Joey’s Little Wiseguy” or “Joey Me the Mo’Hay”?

• I’m also disappointed that War Horse isn’t more bad-ass and this isn’t a horse version of Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

• GOOSE! There’s a goose that keeps chasing/chomping people and showing up in scenes randomly. It has more charisma and charm than anything else in the movie. Goose for Best Actor!

• The woman sitting in front of me keeps falling asleep and I want to yell “HEY SNORE HORSE” so bad it hurts.

• Spielberg made a big deal about casting an unknown actor as the main dude, but he’s really just a hunk, a baby Casper Van Dien. He’s good at running through fields and aiming wet looks at the horse.

• If you explain how important something is to a horse, it will understand you and do that thing!

• Ooh Emily Watson’s character has one really good line: “I could hate you more, but I couldn’t love you less.” I’m totally saying that to the next friend to fart in my presence.

• Horses’ faces are oddly expressionless for the most part; they gaze at you over those long, beautiful noses and you don’t know what they’re thinking. I assume they’re pondering carrots and ways to destroy mankind, but who knows?

• For my college sculpture class I made a pair of ceramic horse heads, and my professor got really worked up over how strange and enigmatic horses are. At one point she kept loudly repeating, “WHAT IS IT ABOUT THEIR FACES? WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE FACE?!” while we stared back at her, stunned. What is it about the face?

• The premise of the movie seems to be that lots of people fall in love with and are willing to risk everything for this horse. This horse is a siren and should be destroyed!

• Benedict Cumberbatch only appears onscreen for a second, but it’s worth mentioning because he’s Benedict Cumberbatch. Have you seen BBC’s Sherlock yet? It’s on Netflix, go watch the first episode. Then come back here and we can talk about how that show is cumberbatches of fun.

• Sometimes when I’m riding in a car, I look out the window and imagine I’m riding a horse running alongside the road and we’re jumping over fences and mail boxes and benedictcumberbatches and stuff.

• And also sometimes when I’m jogging, I pretend I’m a horse, and then if I’m really in the groove I make quiet rhythmic clucking noises to myself so I’m also the rider? I’m riding myself?

• I’m glad War Horse doesn’t talk out loud or have thoughts.

• Spielberg has some clever ways of hiding the carnage of war; we see riderless horses jumping over cannons, the sails of a windmill conceal an execution, etc. It’s a non Gore Horse approach to violence.

• The soldiers’ horses are all marching in silhouette against the backdrop of a beautiful, firey sunset and ONE OF THEM IS POOPING, I SEE THE SILHOUETTES OF POOPS.

• War Horse just “volunteered” to take the place of his friend, who in War Horse’s opinion was too sick to pull a wagon. Do horses have the ability to volunteer?

• I’m pretty sure horses only volunteer to do their favorite things.

• THE OTHER HORSE JUST DIED!! Argghhh this part is really sad! Oh no, I’m crying. Shit, shit, I’ve got feelings diarrhea!

• Okay, but the saddest part is followed by THE VERY BEST SCENE: War Horse faces off with a tank, then gallops crazily through No Man’s Land, leaping in and out and over trenches before getting tangled in barbed wire. I try to start an audience chant, WAR HORSE WAR HORSE!, but it doesn’t catch on.

• The soldiers are using so many different styles of periscope! Good job, prop master.

• This part where the German and British soldiers temporarily put aside their differences to help War Horse could have been schmaltzy, but it’s done very tastefully.

• There are at least three scenes where somebody is aiming and about to shoot the horse for no reason, and the horse has no idea! Because he’s a horse.

• IN CONCLUSION: This is a standard horse movie about projecting human ideals, emotions, and symbolism onto animals, with a decent war movie sandwiched in the middle. There are about four “pretty horsey runs really fast” scenes, so I give it 4 out of 5 horseshoes!

Previously: What Dogs Want.

Lisa Hanawalt lives in Brooklyn and does illustrations + funnies for publications like the New York Times, McSweeney’s, Vice, and Chronicle Books. She’s best known for her comic book series I Want You.