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There are two types of little girls: Those who love Barbie’s and those who love horses. When one considers the potentially negative mental impact of playing with an outrageously proportioned plastic snob, it seems to me that horse love is the healthier obsession between the two. So, doubtless, any parent with a little girl under 10 has already resigned themselves to watching Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, if only to save their daughters from slavery to an all-powerful toy store bimbo. Fortunately for such parents, Spirit delivers plenty to keep them interested as well.
Basically, Spirit is the story of a wild mustang, captured and stolen from his herd by U.S. Cavalry soldiers in the old west. In his journey he bucks off cowboys, travels with Native Americans, and even falls a little bit in love while on his quest to return home to freedom. The real beauty, and perhaps even the genius of this film is that the horses do not talk. Can anyone name ANY animated film in which the animals do not talk? Ok, now try to name a good one. That little tidbit might seem like film suicide, especially with a movie so clearly aiming for the easily bored kiddy set. For Spirit, it is not.
Even though the humans are the only ones talking, and other than a few smiles and a couple of un-horse like gestures from the animated horses, Spirit seems to be shooting for realism, the movie still manages to be magical and completely engaging. The kids in the screening I sat in on were utterly enthralled by the horses, talking or not. Honestly, maybe I was just a little bit too. The interesting thing is, that since the horses aren’t talking, there are quite a few stretches in the film completely bereft of dialogue. These are filled primarily by musical score voiced by Bryan Adams. Yes, I know, that sounds a little bit frightening. Don’t be afraid. Adams delivers quite capably, in fact he sets the tone for the entire film… and should you be able to forget that it is him, you might even be able to enjoy the uplifting, soul soaring effect the well chosen musical tracks have, when combined with the beauty and majesty of Spirit’s horse characters.
Sure, Spirit is a kiddie movie, with all the usual standard conventions (other than talking animals) built in. But the film has class and perhaps even more importantly style. The animation is quite simply breathtaking. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such an exciting animated depiction of real honest to god flat out MOTION. Horses streak across the plains with wild abound, followed by a camera that is not afraid to move around, in, over, and between the scenery to deliver some really breathtaking motion shots of majestically drawn animals. Running, jumping, swimming, all are stunningly rendered with such detailed and well drawn action sequences, that I found myself wishing that real westerns might take a few cues from Spirit’s adventures in the old west.
Aside from actual action itself, each panel is wonderfully detailed and capably done, with a few really flat out artistic shots interspersed in between. One particularly breathtaking shot comes to mind, which features cowboys riding across the plains after dark. The screen goes black and seconds pass. Then lighting STREAKS across the screen, lighting the world in an instant blaze reveal the beautiful silhouettes of rider and horse marching across a lightning lit world against an pitch black sky. You don’t see animation like that anymore. Not from Disney, not from anybody.
Quite simply, Spirit is the kind of positive, uplifting, class animation that Disney once did… with maybe just a little more. It’s not all risk taking and at times, Spirit is almost overly conventional. Yet this is a film determined to be just a little different. Spirit is willing to go the extra mile to pull out a real quality product. This is the kind of honest-hearted, family entertainment that hasn’t truly been done right in a long time. Throw away your Pam Anderson proportioned Barbie’s and head for the Cimarron.