After watching this film, I actually had to go back and check the novel to make sure I had read it properly. The DVD cover says, 'the faithful adaptation of Anna Sewell's classic novel'. I'd really like to know which copy they read!
The entire story is different; it's almost as if someone flicked through the book, picked out the character names and then made the rest of it up. Black Beauty has the same name, but Joe Green is now Joe something-or-other and lives on the farm where he is born, Ginger is now a gelding, and the local squire dies, his son takes over, is cruel to Beauty and then perishes a la Reuben Smith in the novel. There is also a peculiar scene where Beauty is ridden by a gypsy in a drunken race.
Having never watched the series, I can't say if it's based on the television programme as opposed to the novel. Needless to say, being a fan of the book I was rather disappointed. The young (at the time) actor from Oliver features as the young boy, and unfortunately the emphasis is on the human characters; Black Beauty is rather a background catalyst for the various social observations. The film also tiptoes around many of the original author's points, for instance the hunt scene, one of the few scenes that actually comes from the book, is modified so that it is the cruel squire mistreating his horse that makes it unpleasant, as opposed to Sewell's opinion that it is a cruel and dangerous practice for all involved.
This version of Black Beauty, if it can be named as such,is perhaps the least faithful adaptation I have ever seen. That is not to say that it is unwatchable; it's a family slice of nostalgia if nothing else. Adults can identify with the various human struggles, as children can with the friendship between Joe and the horse. I just got the feeling that someone had a rather average idea for a horse story and decided to label it as Black Beauty to attract more attention. Disappointing, but only if you are a fan of the book.