In 1979, the lovely children’s fable ”The Black Stallion” cast a spell, in no small part because of its radical spareness of dialogue. In Running Free, a boy and a horse become friends, only this time the animal, a chestnut-brown colt named Lucky, communes with us in voice-over (spoken by Lukas Haas, all grown up from ”Witness”), and a weirdly detached and affectless narration it is, too. This may be the first talking-animal movie in which the critter hero seems to have been body-snatched by a commentator from C-SPAN.
”Running Free” is set in Africa in 1914, which means that when Lucky isn’t lulling us to sleep with such pensées as ”I saw horses working everywhere in the town, and I wondered what would happen to me,” the soundtrack thunders with incongruously deafening ”tribal” drums. Small children may be frightened, but those drums are the closest thing to a pulse this movie has.