MPAA Rating: G/Genre: Animated Adventure/Voices of: Matt Damon, James Cromwell, Daniel Studi, Chopper Bernet, Jeff LeBeau, Richard McGonagle, Matt Levin, Robert Cait, Charles Napier, Zahn McClarnon, Michael Horse, Donald Fullilove, Frank Welker, Mickie McGowan, Sherry Lynn, Jennifer Darling/Runtime: 83 minutes
I think it is safe to say that within every living organism on the planet there is a part of them that wants to live free, and to be able to do what they wish without being imprisoned, enslaved, or captive all whilst existing in a life of their making rather than one where they feel like they are made to feel inferior to other organisms simply because those organisms may think themselves “better” or “superior” than them. Indeed when you get right down to it, it really is about having the determination and iron will to survive on the inside that matters just as much as what an organism has on the outside that can determine where it winds up in this life. To that end, the slice of cinematic pie that I am reviewing today, 2002’s Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron regales us with the narrative of a freedom-loving horse that is tragically placed in a life of agony, its struggle to escape, and its journey to find the joy of freedom again. Not only freedom from being imprisoned, but also freedom in regards to living life the way it would like to live it. It is with that in mind that this 2002 slice of cinematic pie does wonderful work in giving us a truly emotional and quite beautifully animated saga that may in some ways be quite distinct from your typical animated film is also at the end of the day very much a worthy addition to the long and storied history of animated movie magic at its finest.
The plot is as follows: This slice of cinematic pie takes us back in time to the 1800s and quickly introduces us to a young horse by the name of Spirit who is able to enjoy a positive and healthy youth with his mom as well as all the other creatures that lived in the area of what was at that time known as the American West. To that end, we see that our intrepid 4-legged hero is able to mature into a potent stallion (hence the title) and take his place as the leader of his particular herd. Things soon take a turn however when one day Spirit accidentally walks into an encampment of people and, despite putting up one heck of a resistance, is taken in and quickly tasked with being broken for people to ride by a member of the U.S. Military only regarded for pretty much the entirety of the film’s runtime as “The Colonel”. Yet our horse friend has his own thoughts about all of this. Namely that he wants no part in any of this whatsoever and as a result vehemently refuses to cooperate in this endeavor to the extent that he won’t even stay levelheaded at any point during someone trying to ride him and break him and would just as soon buck the person off more than anything. Quickly growing exasperated with this whole ordeal as well as running out of options, we soon see “The Colonel” make it clear that our horse friend should be tied up and not be allowed any food or water. It is during this solitary confinement of sorts that we see Spirit soon meet another “guest” of the camp’s in the form of a Native American by the name of Little Creek, form an attachment of sorts with the guy, and soon thereafter begin to plan an escape that will quickly turn into a perilous and riveting adventure truly unlike any other…..
Now as I kinda sorta hinted at a little bit in the first paragraph, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is a slice of cinematic pie that is distinct from a significant number of animated films of its ilk in how it chooses to omit completely the lovable and chatty animals in other movies like this. Instead, this is a film that chooses to construct its story more so on vibe, emotion, music, and only the bare minimum of dialogue necessary to both propel the narrative forward as well as interpret those things that narrative regaling from a visual point of view just can’t fully elucidate to a movie going audience. Suffice it to say that this slice of cinematic pie is most certainly aided by this immensely. Indeed the gift this film possesses in constructing both this character and an overarching narrative surrounding said character in the way that it does not only will keep you more intrigued in the overall movie, but it also is infinitely better at explaining the more complicated pathos on display in a manner that dialogue alone simply would’ve been unable to achieve. I mean this is a character who, through a distinct movement or glance and assisted by music all but speaking for him, manages to be a much more immersive, relatable, and established character both on the inside and the outside as well. Yet it isn’t just our main character who is affected by this film’s creative choices. Rather, the bonds between characters are more immersive, the fallout of every decision is more apparent, the responses are more thought-provoking, and the conclusion is infinitely more satisfying for both the characters in the story and you, the movie goer who has found themselves part of this world as well. Suffice it to say that the creative team behind this film has managed to give audiences something that they should consider a genuine accomplishment in how they have managed to showcase for us the genuine heart and soul of a character through methods other than those that might be seen as “typical” for this distinct genre of movie magic.
Now it should be noted that whenever there is voiceover dialogue in this film, it is usually the voice of Jason Bourne himself aka Matt Damon whose voice is the one you are hearing. Indeed as narrator Damon is to an extent saying for us what exactly the main character’s inner voice is saying at that particularly time. To be sure, Damon’s voice is not heard that often in this film and only seems to come up when it is vital to either better set up for us what is going or to convey something Spirit is thinking that audience will need to know for what lies ahead in the rest of the film. Yet as big of a get as Damon was for this film, his execution of the dialogue really does leave a little bit to be desired. I say this because although fine when placed beside the overall narrative and the emotions in said narrative, Damon by and large just doesn’t really give us the feeling that he is willing to be on the same level as the character and his passion. What Damon is saying however is a completely different story. Rather, what he is saying is absolutely emotionally powerful material that honestly is a terrific blend of narrative forwarding and straight up poetry I have heard in a while. To that end, the whole package including what is being said, the main narrative, and the emotions the prior 2 categories are able to inspire in the viewer are all able to come together to conjure up an incredibly emotional summation where a simple narrative with complicated undercurrents is able to join together in beautiful synchronicity. Indeed this movie is one that is able to construct itself around the pathos and only permits the action to come and throw them for a curve when it is able to better promote our main character’s struggle to regain the life he was living shortly before hitting rock-bottom. In addition, this slice of cinematic pie is a truly lovely animated take on the iconic American West locale and in many ways makes the locale almost as much of a character as the rest of the characters, both animal and human, at the heart of the narrative. As a result, we get an animated film is truly three dimensional both in regards to the characters and the world that they inhabit, but in terms of the narrative that is going on inside that world and involving those characters as well respectively.
All in all and especially in light of the quasi-sorta kinda follow-up that is supposed to be coming out a day after this retrospective review goes up, I think it is safe to say that the 2002 slice of cinematic pie that is Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is one that does work fairly well in nearly every single respect that it is supposed to. Indeed this is not just a movie that features absolutely beautiful work in terms of its animation, but is also one that has a quite riveting and immensely satisfying narrative that deals with a singular animal’s unyielding resolve, the ties of comradery and trust it is able to form with both other animals and a human or 2, and its fight to reacquire the right to be free and live life the way that he was meant to. At the same time this is also quite the distinct slice of cinematic pie in how it is able to construct its story on very little spoken dialogue from the characters and seldom if any, with the exception of some well-chosen moments where we get voiceover rather than anything spoken, from the film’s titular steed. Yet even with that on the table, there can be no denying that Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is a movie that is gorgeous in how simple it chooses to be, how efficiently harmonious it manages to be, and how deeply it will connect with you, the movie goer. In other words: this is one slice of cinematic pie that is a truly underrated success in the world of animated movie magic to say nothing of a wonderful example that quite a few other animated films could learn a thing or 2 from. On a scale of 1-5 I give Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron a solid 3.5 out of 5.