Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron Review
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is a 2002 animated western film made by DreamWorks Animation. It is one of the company’s finest films and undoubtedly one of their most shamefully underrated.
It is set in the 19th century wild west. It follows a young stallion and his capture and eventual escape from humans and his relationship with his Native American friend. It may seem like a typical film and yes, it is predictable, but it is nonetheless a moving story mainly because it is so emotional and engaging throughout its whole slim running time. It is also mostly well paced and impactful, realistic but in its ending wonderfully unrealistic and inspirational. The theme of friendship between a man and a horse is well handled, resulting in many hard-hitting sequences. And the whole third act is one of the best ever endings from DreamWorks – so powerful and moving, perfectly executed and wonderfully emotional.
The characters are excellent. Spirit is very good as this feisty and free individual, a horse that won’t lose his free nature despite all. But I especially like his comic timing and the head movements are so realistic and funny or sad at times, but more on that later. The Coronel has a great screen presence, but is too vilified. And Little Creek is fantastic, simply phenomenal. He is the highlight of all the characters. He is a good person, but still a grounded one and the relationship between the two is so emotionally rewarding and the heart of the movie, but still not going too far into unrealistic or maudlin territory. And I like how politically correct it is. This is one of the rare animated films that deals with Native Americans and portrays them in a positive light. Only another film comes to my mind that does the same thing and that is ‘Pocahontas‘. That is such a progressive and beautiful thing on the part of this movie. As for Rain, she is good as a love interest and so wonderful to both of the characters.
Now, the animation. It is an interesting example of mixing computer animation with traditional animation. It is certainly hand-drawn animated, but it is digitalized. It has that crisp and digital look at times which is very modern and despite the fact that I am not a fan of digital animation, the mix is fairly well done and the animation overall is stupendous. It looks very good and is beautiful to behold, but its attention to detail and most importantly the character design is the area which the animators nailed the most. The horses look absolutely magnificent! Both Spirit and Rain look realistic as do the other horses. They look and act in a grounded and natural way and their head movements and especially the noises they produce are so fascinating. The animators truly paid attention and it is evident that they brought real-life horses to the studio for closer examination and influence, just like Disney did with ‘Bambi‘ and ‘The Lion King‘. But the humans also look really good, both the Native Americans and the Americans.
Now, I just have to talk about one of the best things about the movie and that is certainly its score. It is breathtaking! Hans Zimmer once again proves here how phenomenal he is with one of his better and most underrated scores. It is moving, sometimes devastatingly sad, but always dramatic and in the end powerful and inspirational. It accompanied the sequences it played in front of in the most perfect harmony and it just lifted the whole movie to the higher levels. This is one of the best scored animated films of all time in my opinion.
Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about the soundtrack, mainly the songs as they are the film’s worst aspect. Yes, Bryan Adams is a great singer and he sings wonderfully here, but those songs are just so lackluster and forgettable and do not differentiate much from each other. But they are also incredibly on-the-nose and just so manipulative and childish. The filmmakers somehow thought that we needed to be reminded about the emotion the characters go through as if the characters’ looks and movements are not enough. That is just the worst choice possible. And also they bring another issue here. The whole beginning is the reason why I thought the whole movie wouldn’t work. It starts off with song after song and although I can understand what they were going for, it is still too much and the editing is awful in its first parts. The beginning that should have lasted five minutes at the most lasts ten minutes and that is too much as the conflict should arrive much sooner and the songs are hitting you in the head too much almost to a painful level.
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is beautifully filmed. It is solidly directed, well paced and well acted, but above all it is emotional, clever and inspirational and powerful throughout. It also has terrific score and the sound effects of the horses are excellent. The action sequences tend to take too much of the film’s running time, but they are still incredibly well done. It is also well shot with some beautiful to look at imagery. And the humor, once there, is solid and the film has the right mix of tone between action, drama and playful comedy. I also adore its sophisticated silent approach with the horses and although the narration is present, it is still not painful as it usually is.
It is an underrated film. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film and it lost rightfully to ‘Spirited Away‘, but that classic film is from the year before which means that this movie just might be the best animated film of 2002, even better than Disney’s ‘Lilo and Stitch’. It is also one of the best DreamWorks animated films. It is not on the same quality of the ‘Dragon‘ franchise and ‘Chicken Run‘ is also better, but it can be said to be better than ‘The Prince of Egypt‘ meaning that it is in my top five list for the company.
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is a powerful and inspirational film. It has its problems including the weak songs and too drawn-out beginning, but it also has an excellent and moving story, wonderful characters, breathtaking and so realistic animation and just an amazing score. It is one of the best and most shamefully underrated DreamWorks animated films and it is undoubtedly one of the best scored animated films of all time.
My Rating – 4.5