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Anchor Bay presents
The Littlest Horse Thieves (1977)

"What will happen to the ponies?"
- Alice Sandman (Chloe Franks)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: February 26, 2001

Stars: Alastair Sim, Peter Barkworth, Maurice Colbourne, Susan Tebbs
Other Stars: Andrew Harrison, Chloe Franks, Benjie Bolgar, Prunella Scales, Leslie Sands, Joe Gladwin, Jeremy Bulloch
Director: Charles Jarrott

MPAA Rating: G
Run Time: 01h:44m:01s
Release Date: June 29, 1999
UPC: 013131083095
Genre: family

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- AB+A- D-

DVD Review

Yorkshire England 1909: Modernization is coming to Emsdale Colliery. For the past 14 years the pits of the coal mine that are the heart of the town have been faithfully serviced by a team of pit ponies, who haul the coal from the working face deep within the mine. Richard Sandman (Peter Barkworth), the colliery manager, now needs to find ways of making the pits more efficient, under threat from the owner (Alastair Sim as Lord Harrogate) to close the operation down if it can't turn a profit. His solution is to bring in new machinery, which will greatly increase the amount of coal that can be handled per shift. Although children are not allowed to work in the mine until they are 14, Dave (Andrew Harrison) and Tommy Sadler (Benjie Bolgar), whose father was killed in a mining accident, help Bert (Joe Gladwin) the pony keeper take care of the animals in their underground stalls. When the two boys meet the manager's daughter, Alice (Chloe Franks), they strike up a friendship, and devise a way for her to meet the ponies. When the children learn that the ponies will no longer be in service, they imagine them being set free on the moors to live out the remainder of their days. When Alice learns from her father that the ponies will actually be sent to slaughter, the children muster a plan to save them, which will mean stealing them from their underground homes; but after all those years in the pits, life above ground for the animals may not be as the children had hoped for.

For a Disney film, The Littlest Horse Thieves is a bit on the dark side, with less of a whimsical nature than most. This plays to an adult audience quite well, given the realities of the situation facing not only the children, who wish to save the ponies, but also the mining community facing the uncertainty of an increasingly mechanized world. Class distinctions also play an important role in the film, and are illustrated by the tiers of power in the community. The mine's owner doesn't care one way or the other what use he makes of the land, and the workers are simply a means to his end. The Sandman family (including Fawlty Tower's Prunella Scales as Mrs. Sandman) falls in the middle class, and their fears of their daughter socializing with children of the mine workers is aptly demonstrated by their nanny, Miss Coutt (Geraldine McEwan). Finally the miners themselves, living in Colliery-owned housing, have nothing but their jobs in the coal pits, and their sense of moral obligations. The character of each of these classes is brought to light within the movie.

The performances by the entire cast, but especially the children, are extremely good, and the film is without the weak characters that many Disney pictures feature when utilizing young talent. Due to the serious nature of the subject matter, this wouldn't be recommended for young children. The lifestyles in the English countryside are wonderfully portrayed, and the cinematography captures the feel of the mining community exquisitely. The Littlest Horse Thieves is a heart-warming tale of the love children, and adults, can hold for the animals in their lives, and I found this to be a very rewarding picture, much more so than I had expected, and would highly recommend the film for family audiences, though don't expect everything to turn out sugar-coated.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: The widescreen image exhibits some signs of age in the form of a few specks and streaks here and there, but overall holds up very well. Color saturation is good, and accurately as I can tell, portrays the color spectrum of the film stock. Specific scenes seem a bit dark at times, and these are also the most prone to grain. Black levels are solid. There is a bit of racking in the final reel, though the remainder of the film is fine. For a film of this nature and vintage, the presentation doesn't disappoint. A full frame version is also available on the flip side of the disc.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is two-channel mono, and is well delivered, with no signs of distortion present. The only area that has anything of mention is in the final reel where a bit of phasing can be heard in a few passages. Dialogue is clear and distinct throughout, with a natural sounding frequency spectrum.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 22 cues
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Only the 22 chapter stops are the on disc extras. The four page inset booklet features a nice montage of images from the film.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

I hadn't expected this to be as good as it was. The performances and direction were well done, the story satisfying in a traditional Disney fashion, though I'd keep those hankies handy if you're at all the emotional type. Another fine film from the Disney archives, well delivered by Anchor Bay.


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