SUBJECTS — Sports/Horse Racing;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Caring for Animals; Surviving; Grieving;


AGE: 8+; MPAA Rating – G;

Drama; 1979, 120 minutes; Color. Available from

Print Friendly, PDF & Email



A father and his ten-year-old son Alec are returning from Africa by sea. The ship burns and sinks in a storm. All on board are lost except Alec and a black Arabian stallion. Marooned on a deserted shore, the boy and the stallion save each other’s lives and develop a strong attachment. After they are rescued, Alec and the horse are brought to Alec’s home in California where the boy races the horse. The film is from the novel by Walter Farley.


Selected Awards: 1979 Academy Awards: Best Sound Effects Editing; 1979 Los Angeles Film Critics Awards: Best Cinematography; 1979 National Society of Film Critics Awards: Best Cinematography; 1979 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Rooney), Best Film Editing; 1980 Golden Globe Awards Nominations: Best Original Score. This film is listed in the National Film Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress as a “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” film.

Featured Actors: Kelly Reno, Mickey Rooney, Teri Garr, Clarence Muse.

Director: Carroll Ballard.


This is a visually exquisite movie which shows a beautiful and close relationship between a boy and a horse. It can also be used to introduce a child to Bucephalus, the quasi-mythical horse of Alexander the Great, and to horse racing.


MINOR. While the ship is sinking, a passenger tries to steal Alec’s life preserver by cutting the straps. Alec’s father, who is trying to help save the ship, sees this attempt, rushes over, seizes the man and shoves his head into a porthole which is belching flame. The scene is brief and part of the pandemonium of the sinking ship. The viewer is not shown any gruesome effects of the fire on the man. The viewer feels grateful that the father was able to protect his son and that the passenger, who we had seen previously abusing the horse, is getting punished for trying to injure the boy. There are no other objectionable scenes in the entire film.


This film is about the beauty of horses and interspecies affection. You might want to ask your children about their pets and how they feel about them. After your children have seen the movie talk about Alexander the Great and Bucephalus.


Bucephalus was Alexander the Great’s favorite horse and successfully carried him into battle for many years. Bucephalus was renowned for his strength and fearlessness. Alexander and his father, Philip II of Macedonia, pioneered the use of horse cavalry as the wings of the phalanx (a square of armored spear-carrying soldiers, eight to sixteen men deep). The phalanx, as modified by Philip II and used by Alexander, was a great advance in military strategy.

Arabian horses are strong, swift and beautiful. Arabians, often bred with other bloodlines, are the basis of all the saddle horses including the mustang and the palomino.

The term “cobra” refers to several types of poisonous snakes characterized by their deadly bite and the intimidating behavior of spreading their throats. Some cobras are very large, growing to 18 feet in length. The geographic range of the Cobra is the Philippines, southern Asia (including the Indian subcontinent) and Africa. A cobra’s venom attacks the nervous system. Effective serums are now available.

Cobras are often used by snake charmers. They are deaf and respond to movement, not to music. Usually, the snakes that snake charmers use in their performances are defanged so that their bite is harmless. Snake charmers try not to disclose this to their audiences. The snakes in the movie were real. They had to be constantly milked for their venom and anti-venom was at the filming location whenever the snakes were there.



Does the ethical principle of caring extend beyond people to animals? If you were faced with a choice between saving a person who you didn’t know or an animal that you loved, who would you save?

Suggested Response:

Certainly the principle of caring extends beyond people to animals. Most ethical systems do not condone torturing or hurting animals unnecessarily. Ethical vegetarians believe that the principle of caring means that the miserable lives led by animals on factory farms and their brutal deaths are so evil that people should not eat meat, cheese, poultry, fish or eggs, or drink milk that comes from factory farms. People who eat meat don’t extend caring to animals but most would not agree to an animal being beaten or tortured. The hypothetical situation is also interesting because most people, even ethical vegetarians, believe that morality requires them to save the life of a human being that they didn’t know rather than any animal, even their own pet. To that extent, most people recognize that human life has some more value than animal life. These are interesting issues to discuss.


1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

2. Was Alec’s mother right to allow him to race the horse?

Suggested Response:

This is a great question for debate. Most kids will say “yes,” and it will usually be up to the adult to suggest the problems, such as what if he fell, what if one of the other jockeys used a trick that most jockeys know but this child did not know, Alec didn’t have the strength to hang on to the horse at the speeds of a big race, etc.

3. Should Alec have raced the horse in a championship event the first time out?

Suggested Response:

It’s always a good idea to have not one but several trial runs. Unexpected things will happen. Experience is a great teacher.

4. Should Alec’s father have taken the few seconds that it took to kill the man who cut the life vest off of his son?

Suggested Response:

It was very satisfying to see that guy’s head torched but those few seconds could have meant the difference in the lives of both the father and Alec.



1. How did Alec survive alone with just the horse on the deserted shore?

Suggested Response:

Alec and the horse took care of each other. Alex used his ingenuity and tried different things, such as eating seaweed.


2. Did Alec grieve for his father? How did he do that?

Suggested Response:

The movie shows him crying and apparently thinking about his dad.

3. What did Alec’s affection for the horse have to do with grieving?

Suggested Response:

Alec’s affection for the horse was a great solace for him in his grief for his father. It gave him something to hold on to and a being to relate to. Pets are great for grieving people.


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)

1. Describe some of the things Alec did that showed that he cared for the horse.

Suggested Response:

There were several things. He fed the horse. He searched for the horse when the horse was lost.

2. Does the ethical principle of caring extend beyond people to animals?

Suggested Response:

Yes. Mahatma Gandhi, one of the great moral leaders of the 20th century, said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”. He also said, “[T]he more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man.”

3. If you were faced with a choice between saving a person who you didn’t know or an animal that you loved, who would you save?

Suggested Response:

The answer is to save the human being, but there will be some dissenters.


Books recommended for middle school and junior high readers include: On Horses by Joan Embry, the owner of Leo, the horse used in “The Black Stallion.” This book has many color photographs. There is a series of books by Walter Farley about the Black Stallion. They include: The Black Stallion, The Black Stallion & Flame, The Black Stallion Challenged!, and The Black Stallion’s Sulky Colt. The story of this film was taken from the first book in the series.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email