9 out of 10


Pony Express vs the Arab Thoroughbred

Hidalgo is a mustang... but this is no "Fast & Furious", even though it is a film about a race. For Hidalgo is a brave and highly intelligent, little pony who, despite being captured, is never really tamed. Being a Pony Express horse in the Wild West of 1890, might have been exciting enough, but the special set of circumstances that befall it's master put it on an adventure of a dozen lifetimes. Half Sioux, his owner, Frank Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen) is left desolate when he discovers that one such dispatch that he has to deliver is a set of orders to annihilate most of his friends and family at Wounded Knee Creek. Disenchanted, he goes instead to work for Buffalo Bill's Touring Circus with Hidalgo. Yet even here, he cannot escape the writing on the wall for the genocide of the Native Americans that the US Government is pursuing when a Chief approaches he and Buffalo Bill seeking help. The US Government will kill all the Native American's horses unless they can pay nearly $100,000 within a few months, a laughably impossible feat. In a turn of curious turn of fate, he is apporached by representatives of a wealthy Arab Sheik (Omar Shariff), who is furious that he has been billed as having the most resilient horse in the world and a simple challenge is thrown down...to compete in a 3,000 mile endurance race across Arabia, an area known as the "Ocean of Fire", against the finest Arab thoroughbreds in the world, a race never won by a non-Arab, the prize for which is....$100,000....And so the challenge is on...the lonesome cowboy and his horse Hidalgo against 100 of Arabia's finest.

Unlike "Seabiscuit" however, the race proves not only to be up against the speed and agility of the other horses as well as the blazing heat and sand, but he also finds he has to contend against a corrupt English horse-breeder who will stop at nothing to secure victory for her own horse, armed conflict between different Arab clans, bribed westerners, traps in the sand and so on.

Although this sounds like Disney at it's most predictable, the story is truly touching and I found it often hard to keep a dry eye, not least when Hidalgo collapses and he comes to the point of holding a Colt 45 at it head wondering whether he will have to pull the trigger....then again, haviong come from a country that worshipped the horse as a living god less than two milenia ago, maybe that has something to do with it.

In many ways, the film also reflects something more deep about a move of mood in America since 9/11. It's not just the belief in triumph over the gun-toting Arab, but it's as if there is a wish to search for it's roots. Now, Native Americans, again and again are now no longer being regarded as the enemy in the 21st Century, but the wise and stoic founding fathers of the land with film after film like "Pocahantus" and "Windtalkers" and now this reflecting this feeling.

Many have criticsed the film for it's poor supporting cast, yet this is seriously unsound. They are simply unknowns, admittedly because Disney is too scrooge to hire big names, yet, together they create an entire atmosphere of a far away land, utilising actors and actresses, such as the Morroccan-born Zuleikha Robinson as Jazmira, the Arabian princess who helps him and the Egyptian, Omar Shariff. Despite all of this though, the true star of the film remains obscured, the horse that plays Hidalgo, a clever and adorable painted pony that, like the film, never ceases to entertain.

As this is Disney,, it's not hard to guess the end, but the journey there is certainly worth the ride for the price.

Race to see this one! One of the best Disney films ever.

Film Critic: Robert L Thompsett