Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron was one of my favorite movies growing up. As I’ve said, movies that have made me cry hold a special place in my heart, and Spirit is one such Childhood Tearjerker. DreamWorks knew from the start that most adults and kids alike love horses, and seeing such a wild and free creature dragged from his home was enough to get my waterworks going. It still touches me, though I don’t weep like I used to.
The animation is absolutely stunning. While some of the CGI from the opening is obvious, still lovely but paling in comparison to that of Dinosaur, the rest of the Western landscapes and the hand-drawn horses are gorgeous (especially the gorges). I’m no artist, but most agree that horses are among the most difficult creatures to draw: after all, Maurice Sendak illustrated Where the Wild Things Are with assorted beasts only because he realized he couldn’t draw horses. Not only are the horses arrestingly beautiful and convincing, but their facial features evoke the full spectrum of emotions without ever lapsing into anthropomorphic talking animal territory. Spirit himself has some inward monologues, provided by Matt Damon, who could have varied his voice more, but the rest of the animal interaction is done skillfully with emotion-filled neighs, whinnies, wickers, nickers, brays, and countless other equine ejaculations. So well is the wordless interplay handled that much of Damon’s voiceover, which ranges from stirring to funny, seemed unnecessary, though my VC felt it served to break up all the whinnying.
Then again, that is why Bryan Adams’s excellent anthems were included. Along with a rousing orchestral score that once again proves Hans Zimmer’s musical facility, Adams’s songs provide the melodious heart of the film. Though some critics decried the soundtrack as “whiny” or “insipid,” I felt they added so much to the film. It may not be on the level of what Phil Collins provided for Tarzan, but every song strikes the right chord of emotion, from free-wheeling liberty to depression to rekindled hope. “Don’t Let Go,” which features Sarah McLachlan with a haunting harmony, certainly deserves a place in my End Credits Song Hall of Fame.
Over the years, I have still seen some flaws: the intruding humans are uniformly bad because of their enslavement of horses, and I don’t usually like to feel guilty for wanting to ride a horse. Since all the Indians’ horses appear happy, the film seems to imply that only they built any relationship with their ponies. All the soldiers’ horses seem to hate their masters and frequently sabotage them, not allowing for the fact that I’m sure plenty of cowboys shared a connection with their steeds. After all, even broken horses can be happy.
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is nonetheless a lovely, G-rated adventure with fantastic music and some genuinely exciting action sequences. It was DreamWorks Animation’s second-to-last hand-drawn film (before Sinbad) and causes me to miss the days before CGI became the only animation style successfully used in film.
Best line: (part of Spirit’s opening monologue) “I was born here, in this place that would come to be called the Old West. But, to my kind, the land was ageless. It had no beginning and no end, no boundary between earth and sky. Like the wind and the buffalo, we belonged here; we would always belong here. They say the mustang is the spirit of the West. Whether that west was won or lost in the end, you’ll have to decide for yourself….”Artistry: 7 Characters/Actors: 7 Entertainment: 7 Visual Effects: 10 Originality: 7 Watchability: 8 Other (crying effect): +1 TOTAL: 47 out of 60
Next: #156 – As Good As It Gets
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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