The sailor of legend is framed by the goddess Eris for the theft of the Book of Peace, and must travel to her realm at the end of the world to retrieve it and save the life of his childhood friend Prince Proteus.
The mustang stallion Spirit grows up to proudly succeed his father as leader of the Cimarron herd in the unspoiled Wild West. When 'civilization' reaches Dakota territory, naive curiosity gets him caught by cowboys and sold to the US Cavalry. Its method of training by breaking a horse fails utterly on him. Just when the colonel intends to shoot Spirit, the equally indomitable captured young Lakota brave, Little Creek, escapes on his back. He also tricks him to a coral with his beloved mare, but shows respect and wins some trust. As the railroad arrives, the Indian village is wrecked and Spirit gets captured for use as a draft-horse. When the stallion realizes this project threatens his whole world, he escapes and unleashes the fury of a force of nature, ultimately teaming up with Little Creek. Written by
When Little Creek is letting Spirit go free from the horse pen, the scale of Little Creek to Spirit is completely off as he slaps the horses hind quarters. Little Creek actually towers over Spirit for a brief moment. See more »
It's said that when Disney first contemplated Dinosaur (2000), the idea was to have the giant lizards play out non-speaking roles and that this was eventually abandoned, principally through a fear of alienating a junior audience. Asbury and Cook's Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron reverses that decision, takes the braver choice and leaves the equine main characters mute
though still subject to some restrained first person narration by Matt
Damon. `They say that the history of the west was written from the saddle of a horse - but it's never been told from the heart of one' he says and, right from the start, it is clear that this will be a Western with a different perspective. Animated Westerns are rare enough (the last one I can easily recall is Fievel Goes West (1991)) and those told from an animal's viewpoint even scarcer. Spirit is refreshing in that it carries off a combination of these two challenges effectively, if inevitably somewhat simplistically.
The stallion Spirit's indomitable nature is what shapes the narrative, and is his most defining characteristic. His craving for freedom and independence remain uppermost, even when eventually tempered by the relationships eventually established with the mare Rain and the Indian Little Creek. Strictly speaking, one might argue that Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is less of a Western than a nature film, in which pastoral ideals loom more important than the rigours of life at the frontier. As such, it plays more like a cross between the pony paean of Champion the Wonder Horse, and the pantheism of The Indian Fighter, than as a regular film of the genre. The traditional Western often centres around the establishment of civilisation, the drive West, the homestead movement, and so on. The scene in which Spirit wrecks the locomotive, checking the advance of the railroad, is at odds with a genre world view which, typically, has seen the iron way's coming as a tremendous advance.
Spirit seeks to keep the wilderness pristine, a place apart from the footfall of white men, where foals can be brought up in peace and security. Of course, his halt of railroad expansion can only be a temporary one, but it is good enough in the meantime. It is as well that he acts when and how he does too, for his friends the Indians are blissfully unaware of events, and seem unable to act with similar determination. A far cry from the marauding savages frequently presented by the Western in its heyday, the tribe here are a peaceful people, somewhat enervated by the need to have a strong animal lead and presumably the claims of political correctness. Little Creek is the exception (although still open-mouthed at the stallion's continued rebelliousness at the fort), even if his amazingly timely and successful trudge to find Spirit down the tracks strains belief.
First time co directors Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook have had some involvement with successful animated projects in the past, such as Prince of Egypt, Toy Story, and Little Mermaid. They've clearly learned from their experience. Hans Zimmer's stirring score (which echoes his triumphant Gladiator music at times) and Byan Adam's throaty warbling helps them along, and the story of Spirit runs like clockwork, displaying none of the cutesy parochialism which mars some of Disney's work. With no horse dialogue to slow matters down, much is conveyed through meaningful neighs and equine expressions, surprisingly effective in communication.
Some viewers have praised the quality of the animation, and while it is done effectively enough much of the figure drawing has a stripped-down quality which leads to a certain TV blandness (more noticeable in the pan-and-scan video version). The most effective animation occurs during the dramatic destruction of the railroad, but even here there's a suspicion that, had a little more care been spent on light and shade (for instance), the results would have been even more impressive. Least effective of all is the scene on the train, when the despondent Spirit sees his family and friends imagined in falling snowflakes, as the graphic visualisation is disappointingly unsubtle. It's at times like this that the soundtrack proves its worth, carrying the reader over such less effective patches with some emotional charge.
When all is said and done of course, it's the target audience which matters the most. The two junior ladies in my household have watched Spirit repeatedly since it arrived at Christmas and would give the film a big four thumbs up. No doubt the successful reception of the feature on the big screen may encourage a sequel (the antipathy between Spirit and The Colonel has been left unresolved, for instance) and in my home, at least, the result of Spirit and Rain beginning a family would be eagerly awaited.
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