Horse lovers are so desperate for films that accurately portray their lifestyle that they anxiously await the release of every horse flick. Often they are disappointed, as will probably be the case with Moondance Alexander, a film that enjoyed a meager release in theatres and has recently become widely available on DVD. The storyline had promise: A gawky adolescent girl gains a sense of self-worth through the merits of barn chores and horsemanship. But about the time that a colicky horse is left sprawled out on the barn floor to fend for itself through the night, the movie’s potential fades like the dapples on an aging gray horse.
For those unfamiliar with the film, Moondance Alexander is not the name of some high falutin’ show pony. Instead it’s the name of the film’s protagonist, an undersized, fashionably challenged 9th grade girl who suffers the wrath of all the condescending cool kids. One day, while riding her bicycle to deliver some packages for a local store owner, Moondance (Kay Panabaker) crosses paths with a wayward pinto gelding she names Checkers. Will Moondance immediately bond with Checkers? Will she miraculously learn to pilot Checkers around a course of jumps in a just a few lessons? At the prestigious hunter classic, can she ride Checkers, the scruffy Pinto, to victory over the rich kids who are mounted on fancy Thoroughbreds and warmbloods? You already know the answer, don’t you?
The film gallops to its fairy tale ending faster than a race horse on barley-corn. Viewers never get to learn the entire back story behind Dante, Checker’s surly trainer, a role undertaken by a perpetually grouchy Don Johnson. Nor is there any character development of Fiona, played by ice skating’s Olympic silver medalist, Sasha Cohen. Fiona is the extra mean girl at Moondance’s school, who also happens to be the reigning hunter classic champion. And by the way, do we need any more stereotypical portrayals of hunt seat riders as wealthy and uppity?
Despite its faults—check your knowledge of horse care, horsemanship and horse show protocol at the barn door—Moondance Alexander is a warm-hearted horse flick suitable for family viewing. There’s an admirable message that perseverance in the face of adversity builds character. Plus, the natural beauty of Alberta, Canada serves as the colorful backdrop to the action. Although adult horse folks might find the film on the level of an after-school special, Moondance Alexander is the perfect popcorn flick for a sleepover populated by pony kids.