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Finally, a pretty good animated film without talking animals
on 14 June 2003
The opening sequence of "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron," in which an eagle flies across the grand vistas of the American West until we catch up with the herd of wild mustangs in which the title character lives was used quite effectively as the trailer for this film, in much the same manner as was done with the computer animated film "Dinosaur." The comparison is particularly apt because when I saw "Dinosaur" I was disappointed that all of the characters talked; I thought we would be seeing the equivalent of a prehistoric Disney nature film. In contrast, I was pleasantly surprised that Spirit and the other horses in this animated Dreamworks film did not talk. There is narration on Spirit's behalf by Matt Damon, but the music of Han Zimmer and the songs of Bryan Adams serve as the horse's voice as well.
Overall, I think the filmmakers more than rise to the challenge of telling a story without talking animals. This is not a cute cartoon in the grand Disney tradition and "Spirit" is much the better for it, with the expressiveness of Spirit's face exceeding anything you have seen before. The story is set in the Old West and tells the story of Spirit, a wild mustang stallion who comes into contact with humans: first cowboys, then the U.S. cavalry, and then Indians. Each group thinks they can tame the wild stallion, but they underestimate their opponent (just branding the horse proves to be an insurmountable obstacle). Eventually Spirit learns to distinguish between the heavy handed colonel (voiced by James Cromwell) and the young brave Little Creek (voiced by Daniel Studi).
Yes, Spirit emerges through these adventures as something of a super horse, constantly doing the impossible, but holding animated films to the standard of reality is hardly appropriate. Spirit symbolizes the imperative of freedom and as such ultimately earns the respect of the mere humans in his story. The result is not a great animated film, but certainly a very good one that should appeal to adults as well as children, and since the film only runs 83 minutes long it should not tax either age group that much.