Stephen Spielberg’s new film War Horse is, as one would expect from a Spielberg production, visually gorgeous. The acting is excellent. The story itself, in my opinion, isn’t strong enough to bear the weight of a pony.

Based on a stage play based on a children’s book by Michael Morpurgo, the film opens in the lovely countryside of Devon, England, where young Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine), a farmer’s son, watches a thoroughbred colt being born, and attempts to make friends with it. Later his drunken father (pretty improbably) gets it into his head to buy the animal as a plow horse, and Albert trains it to work. Then setbacks force the father to sell the horse to the army (World War I has just begun), and we follow the horse’s experiences through the entire war, up to Armistice Day and beyond.

Although it was a delight to watch, I did not succeed in suspending my disbelief for one moment in the course of this (too long) movie. It’s a war movie from people who know nothing of war, and a horse movie from people who know nothing of horses (I happened to see it with a couple horse owners, and they got some good laughs out of it). I suppose I was supposed to learn a lesson about the horrors of war, but although there was plenty about that, it all seemed sterile and picture-bookish, and I never really identified with any of the characters. The lesson seemed to be, “Everything will work out for you, if you’re incredibly lucky, which chances are you aren’t.”

War Horse is a beautiful movie, suitable for older children (though there are disturbing scenes). But I brought nothing away from it except some pretty images.

Lars Walker is the author of several fantasy novels, the latest of which is West Oversea.