Based upon a bestselling children's book by Michael Morpurgo and then adapted to the theatrical stage, Spielberg's adaptation feels oddly un-Spielberg. The scenery for many of the early stable scenes looks as though it was just shipped from Hollywood and hadn't quite had time to be aged by a set decorator yet (and the lighting at times is horrifically bad with characters far too bright in the screen making everything look cheap). Most of these issues are found within the first twenty minutes, but once the horse is sent to war, the film picks up and becomes a great piece of film... until the horse ends up in German hands.
"War Horse" treats the audience as if we are all stupid as the German soldiers open their mouths revealing perfect English (even the film acknowledges this in a joke). If the horse is going to be passed throughout the various nations fighting WW1, then the unique languages that come from each side of the trenches should be expressed.
(In my opinion: It would have been far more impressive and special of an experience if the Germans had spoken German and not have been subtitled. The Horse is kind of the main character, and it would have been great fun to have experienced the film through the Horses ears.)
The whole movie is trying to please every demographic with giddy dialogue, desperately sad times, forced monologues, green pastures, silly animals, Biblical quotes, and a general lack of horses dying on camera. Why we never see horses die in combat is a mystery to me. If this film is about a horse, we should see other horses die to emphasize the great peril that our protagonist is facing (sure, the trench and battle scenes are spectacular, but we only see people die). Not until the end of a few battles do we see the horse carcasses.
The ending was certainly better than the beginning, but it was highly predictable. This is a movie that has something for every age, but that's where the movie falls apart.
Spielberg never should have directed this film. A WW1 film is something he should pursue, but a children's book adaptation comparable to a young girl's fascination with horses does not match the ingredients for a cohesive film. I'll stick with "Hook" for family-friendly Spielberg.
My ranking: 2/5 stars