When it comes to making animated films that tells a story in vivid detail and interlaces it with comedy, no studio does it better than Disney. Only recently have other studio try to follow in its footsteps, but could not succeed in balancing both very well. But DreamWorks appears to have some success, with films like The Prince of Egypt and the Oscar-winning Shrek. Its latest film Spirit may well be added to its list, if it can measure up to its animated predecessors.
The story takes place in the old West, during the time when the white men have yet to conquer the entire New World and the native Indians are free to live and hunt. A stallion is born and, like his fellow horses, raised in the wild. His life takes an unexpected turn when he meets the white men, whom he termed “two-legged”, and puts up a spirited struggle against their attempts to tame him. While doing so, he befriends an Indian brave Little Creek, and together they fend off against their common enemies. Their adventure consists of long chases across the plains, a love triangle involving the Little Creek’s other horse, and a locomotive-powered forest fire. Throughout the adventure, Spirit resists any attempts to ride him by the two-legged humans, including Little Creek’s whom he appears to be fond of.
Spirit has a few good points, quality of animation being the most obvious. One, the horses don’t talk, nor do they break into song. Two, it reinforces the importance of family values and friendship. Three, it sends the politically correct message that the Indians are the peace-loving citizens, and the white men are the invading villains. Four, any lover of horses will delight in the ponies’ lengthy screen time. But…
The narration comes from the horse’s mouth. Yes, Spirit the horse is the narrator, and therefore talks. Providing that voice is Matt Damon. Now, Damon has never been a horse, let alone a wild spirit like Spirit. He is too seriously stiff while Spirit is devishly roguish. Horse-lovers, pay attention to them critters. They look like horses, they run like horses, but they behave more human than horse. Their facial expressions – head-shakings, side grins, happy, sad – are characteristically un-horse-like. The big problem with that is they are excessive among the horse characters but are scarce among the human characters.
The animation is impressive. It is best in presenting Spirit’s relationship with Little Creek. Credit is given to Daniel Studi as the heroic longsuffering brave. Some of the music tracks, particularly the ones written by Bryan Adams, are in sync with the storyline. Even the plot itself has a heartwarming feel to it. However, the story direction – a tag team effort by Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook – patronizes audiences that are young in body or mind rather than young at heart. Its squeaky-clean virtues are likely to appeal only to the young (12 years and under) and the old (senior citizens), but not the in-between.
DreamWorks has shown that it can produce quality animated films. But Spirit lacks the wit and the intelligence that made Shrek their non-Disney crowning achievement. Even Disney’s worst has more merit. This horse caper is recommended only for kids and their accompanying parents, and viewers that cannot be more senile.
What do you think of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
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