Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (May 24/02)
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is an odd little cartoon. Unlike the majority of feature-length animated movies that have hit theatres the past few years, this one doesn't feature any wacky supporting characters, nobody breaks out in song, and (most importantly) the animals don't have the ability to speak. And while it's not as frenetic in pace as something like Shrek or even Atlantis, it's nonetheless marvelously entertaining and (pardon the cliché) fun for the whole family.
As the film opens, we meet a large herd of horses - one of which is in the midst of giving birth to our protagonist, Spirit. Through voice over by Matt Damon, we hear his thoughts; initially, he's happy enough galloping throughout the plains, but upon stumbling across some "two leggeds" (horse speak for humans), he just has to investigate. This leads to his capture, and the attempts of a Cavalry Captain to break him. But Spirit is a stubborn sort, and refuses any such taming efforts. He soon escapes, with help of a friendly Indian named Little Creek. Together, the two get into a heap of adventures while cruising the old West.
As unusual as it sounds, Spirit is an honest to goodness Western - with a few unique touches. Politically correct to the extreme, the film presents Indians as the good guys while the Cavalry soldiers come off as incredibly callous and even evil. The main difference between this movie and other Westerns is, of course, the fact that we're seeing everything through the eyes of a horse. And it works. Though it would seem that a movie without a speaking central character would be impossible to get into, that's hardly the case. Spirit (the horse, not the movie) almost instantly becomes a compelling figure, one that we want to see succeed and run free.
The film runs a brisk 81 minutes, a running time that makes it almost impossible to become bored. And although it may take some folks a while to get used to the idea that there aren't any pop culture references or wacky sidekicks, Spirit is a well intentioned and genuinely thrilling movie that's appropriate for all ages. It's only demerits come in the form of one too many Bryan Adams songs (after about the fourth or fifth ditty, you'll be wishing for more of Hans Zimmer's score) and a lack of plot that results in about three different climaxes. But other than that, Spirit is certainly worth checking out, especially in this age of jokey animated movies (of which this certainly is not).