A wild stallion is captured by humans and slowly loses the will to resist training, yet, throughout his struggles for freedom, the stallion refuses to let go of the hope of one day returning... Read allA wild stallion is captured by humans and slowly loses the will to resist training, yet, throughout his struggles for freedom, the stallion refuses to let go of the hope of one day returning home to his herd.A wild stallion is captured by humans and slowly loses the will to resist training, yet, throughout his struggles for freedom, the stallion refuses to let go of the hope of one day returning home to his herd.
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.
- Jan 2, 2003