Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
directed by Kelly Asbury & Lorna Cook
(DreamWorks, 2002)

The animals don't talk, and there are no adorable animal sidekicks, so you know it's not a Disney film. Spirit, which follows the life of a wild stallion in the early days of the Old West, is a delightful tale, an animated feature that will entertain children and adults alike.

There are flaws, yes. While Spirit and his horse pals don't have human voices, they do have human facial reactions and very human reactions to events around them. In other words, filmmakers left out the larynx but still gifted the horses with human brains and hearts.

The music, primarily Bryan Adams pop, is distracting and ineffective.

Also, the story adheres to the current PC trend of depicting Native Americans as noble nature lovers, while white settlers are all greedy and violent. (I hope we all realize that neither stereotype is true.) Spirit paints its villains with a broad brush, it's true, but that's typical of children's movies, where subtle shadings of good and evil are lost on the target audience. The fact that the villains in this movie are white Americans has angered some people, it's true, but I think we're big enough to play the bad guys now and again without taking such hot-headed offense.

So let's not nitpick. The movie is fun on a basic level and will entertain children with the action, the color and, yes, the animal antics. Even older viewers will appreciate the well-done animation -- these are extremely realistic-looking horses, folks -- and the underlying messages of respect, freedom and good, old-fashioned stubbornness. The movie also does a splendid job of evoking emotions and reactions without a lot of dialogue -- a difficult task when the major characters aren't even human!

For me, the litmus test of this film was Molly, a 4-year-old with a notoriously short attention span. It is with great relief I can report that it passed with flying colors. Not only did she sit riveted for the entire 82-minute feature, but she was eager to share the details of the story with her older brother later that day.

Spirit features the vocal talents of Matt Damon, James Cromwell, Daniel Studi and Richard McGonagle, among others, combining with scriptwriter John Fusco, directors Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook, and a crack animation team to produce an excellent children's movie.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 22 June 2002

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