The well-made, epic War Horse from director Steven Spielberg certainly tugs at the heartstrings – whether you want it to or not.

When I watched the trailer for War Horse, tears fell. Watching this horse race across a battlefield, with bombs going off and John Williams’ big musical score booming, it admittedly got to me. Horses get to me in general, with their soulful faces and big eyes, so going into the film I thought I was going to be in trouble, with the possibility of major sobbing. Thankfully, that didn’t exactly happen because the horse’s journey turns out to be a rather hopeful one – but you’d have to be made of stone not to be emotionally manipulated in this movie — at least a little.

Based on a book and a Broadway play, War Horse follows just that – a thoroughbred horse named Joey who is raised by an English farm boy named Albert (Jeremy Irvine), only to see the horse sold to the British military and sent to France to fight in WWI. Although too young, Albert enlists in order to find Joey and bring him back home, but the movie is really Joey’s tale. The animal begins his quest with the British, is then captured by the Germans, escapes and is tended to by a French school girl and her grandfather, is captured by the Germans… again (damn them) and finally finds himself in No Man’s Land, where he eventually comes back to the British. I won’t give away too much on whether Albert and Joey are reunited, but suffice to say, there’s plenty of good feelings to go around.

Perhaps he is getting a little sappy in his old age, but Spielberg really pours on the schmaltz in War Horse. The story definitely lends itself to being a tad melodramatic, and the director doesn’t really temper those moments with anything understated, starting with when Joey has to plow a field full of rocks so he can save Albert and his family’s farm. Yet, Spielberg also captures some gorgeous vistas, and there are a few scenes that are genuinely moving, especially in the No Man’s Land scene where Joey is stuck.

As for the performances, you will spot several top British actors, including Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, David Thewlis, Peter Mullan, Toby Kebbell and the kid from The Reader (David Kross), but none of them have much of a chance to shine since they are only in the film briefly. In his debut film performance, Irvine does a nice job playing Albert, who mostly has to react to whatever the horse is doing. But the biggest standout is French actor Niels Arestrup as a grandfather trying to protect his young granddaughter from the encroaching Germans. He gives a great little speech about what true bravery is.

War Horse should garner some Oscar nominations, including a probable Best Picture nod, but will it win? I’m not sure. It has all the elements the Academy loves in a Best Picture, but to me it lacks depth and substance to make it a truly stellar selection. In fact, I have yet to be wowed by any film so far this season – but I haven’t seen The Artist yet. Here’s hoping…