Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook

Cast: The voices of Matt Damon, James Cromwell, Daniel Studi

MPAA Rating: 

Running Time: 1:22

Release Date: 5/24/02

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Review by Mark Dujsik

I am a strong supporter and admirer of animated films, particularly ones that break from the established norm. With the increased popularity of computer animation, animated films have quickly broken from the typical Disney musical, and even the more recent traditional, hand-drawn efforts have done the same. Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is the first major two-dimensional animated film to come along after a string of hugely successful computer animation. The movie is unfortunately forgettable and particularly typical. While marking a few important and progressive stylistic steps, the movie feels pieced together and rushed. The script is a combination of formulaic plot developments and overly safe, politically correct sensibilities. The general improvements made by the movie are more the result of what the filmmakers donít do, but the substitute choices negate the effective omissions, still ultimately leaving us with a series of bad choices.

The story focuses on a mustang stallion who will be named Spirit much later. Matt Damon provides the narration from the horseís perspective, as he is born into the Cimarron tribe of horses. They live and run free in the untamed West. He grows up to become the leader of the pack, which we are shown in an obligatory fight scene with a cougar. One night, Spirit hears some strange noises from the frontier and upon investigation, discovers a group of men sleeping around a campfire. He startles them awake, and they try to catch him as he runs back to the safety of his family. Instead of escaping them, he leads them to his clan and is captured to keep his family safe. Spirit is brought to an army fort, where a determined cavalry colonel (voice of James Cromwell) wants to break hisówellóspirit. Joining him in captivity is Little Creek (voice of Daniel Studi), a Lakota Indian. After many trials of maintaining his strength and resistance, Spirit and Little Creek escape to a Lakota camp where Spirit is once again held captive (albeit less severely) and meets a partner in a mare named Rain.

The most obvious decision the filmmakers have made is to forego the convention of talking animated animals. The choice is an effective one, and it would work much better without the compromises the filmmakers have taken to appease the conventional way of thinking. By keeping the animals from talking, the filmmakers have an opportunity to create more realistic characters but do not follow through on it. A voice-over of Spiritís thoughts is provided but unnecessary. It simply comments upon what is happening on screen and illuminating the horseís feelings and thoughts, which of course contradicts the idea of realism. Also included in this vein are songs by once-popular singer Bryan Adams (anyone remember him?). Once again, the horse doesnít sing, but they are used in the same way Phil Collins provided musical commentary to Tarzan. His songs here are the definition of redundant. Without adding any insight or depth, Adamsí songs simply reiterate (much like the narration), with lyrics like "Get off of my back" when the cavalry attempts to break him.

The other choice to compensate for the lack of dialogue from the central characters is the use of exaggerated facial expressions. The horses react to situations without words but with smiles, frowns, confused looks, etc. These expressions are made to look human and have the same result as they would if the horses were talking, leaving us to wonder why they didnít simply go that extra step in either direction. The compromise feels empty. The few voice performances get the job done for the most part. Damonís narration is hindered by the scriptís obvious nature, but his delivery is bland beside that point. James Cromwell has a voice quality that meshes nicely with the Colonel, even though it seems unexpected from his pleasant persona. As Little Creek, Daniel Studi also has the proper tonal quality and voice personality for the character.

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is a movie aimed directly at children. There isnít much that allows the material to transcend a wide age range. The story is overly happy while providing some very simplistic commentary on the need for harmony between man and nature. A fine message for children, to be sure, but there are no real challenges for these characters. Along the way, we know everything will work out and everyone will live happily ever after. In Spirit, his mother doesnít age from Spiritís birth to his required return. Compare that to what happens to Bambiís mother, and youíll understand just how pacific and dull this story is.

Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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