Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
2002, G, 83 min. Directed by Lorna Cook, Kelly Asbury. Voices by Matt Damon, James Cromwell, Daniel Studi.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 24, 2002
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron -- the first animated equine love-story-cum-anti-Manifest Destiny screed -- arrives with a packsaddle loaded with both good and bad news. On the plus side, it clocks in at just over 75 minutes (minus titles and closing credits), which is comfortable for both the younger pre-Preakness set the film is aimed at and their adult chaperones, who may yet be tempted to sneak on over to the Unfaithful screening next door under the pretense of securing more Jujubes. (“Gosh that was a long line! Did I miss anything?”) There's some nicely done cel and CGI animation (working in tandem much of the time), including a breathtaking opening sequence that follows a bald eagle on his flight across the Western plains and over (apparently) the Grand Canyon, as well as a fresh take on the standard cowboys-and-Indians tropes, here with the traditional good guy/bad guy roles reversed. The bad news is that, for all its estimable horsie charms, Spirit is a slight and obvious effort, even for one whose target demographic is likely still in the single digits, age-wise. Matt Damon gives voice to the titular stallion, born to run free across the fruited plains of the American West in the company of his doting mother and her herd. Their natural order is shattered one evening by -- what else? -- the arrival of a group of military scouts, who capture the inquisitive Spirit and haul him off to their nearby fort where James Cromwell's stern (and unnamed) Colonel tries every trick in the book to break the stubborn horse. Spirit has other plans, however, and manages to resist the indignities of the “two-leggeds,” while simultaneously liberating both the soldiers' mounts and captured Lakota Little Creek (Studi), whose patient handling and respect eventually earn him a barebacked ride on the untamable stallion. Pursuit by the army leads in short order to a routing of the Lakota encampment, as well as a steam engine rolling down a mountainside and various well-animated explosions, with the story ending on a predictably positive note that bodes well for both horse and man. Spirit's chief offense, if it can be called that, lies with its tame storyline, which, despite the aforementioned runaway train and a host of equine perils, never manages to rise above the mundane. Sweeping camera vistas and thundering hooves can only do so much to hold the attention of either mom and dad or their offspring, and when Canadian rocker Bryan Adams chimes in with one of several forgettable tunes that litter the film, it's almost more than this avowed animation fan could handle. What is it with the treacly pap-pop that seems part and parcel of mainstream animated films these days, anyway? Surely DreamWorks' head Jeffrey Katzenberg can do better than Eighties also-rans like Adams. Finally (and this is a plus, I think), Matt Damon's voiceover is kept to a bare minimum, which allows audience members to focus on the action onscreen, as opposed to wondering why the former Will Hunting sounds suspiciously as though he were reading from poorly lettered cue cards. Horses may have helped win the West in a thousand different ways, but the tired and trite (and wholly inoffensive) Spirit can barely limp to its final CinemaScope sunset shot.