Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron

Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron

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Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron

They say the history of the West was written from the saddle of a horse. But it's never been told from the heart of one," says the Matt Damon-voiced protagonist of Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron. Individual viewers will find that the movie either works or doesn't based on their ability to accept that conceit, but Spirit doesn't make it easy to buy. In the course of the film, Spirit—a wild stallion separated from his herd after getting captured by the U.S. Army—fakes his own death, sabotages the transport of a train engine, and outwits so many humans that it seems a wonder that the horse community didn't make a stand against the expansion of European settlers in the West. Of course, another community did, and the most ambitious element of Spirit is the way it sneaks a story critical of the conquest of Native Americans into family entertainment. As Spirit befriends a young Lakota (voiced by Daniel Studi), they find a common enemy in a Custer-like colonel with James Cromwell's voice. Being family entertainment, however, Spirit can't really follow the story to its unhappy conclusion. While this may be preferable to the alternative, the film still tastes wishy-washy, in this and other respects. It looks good, or at least big: Primarily a work of conventional animation with the occasional digital assist, Spirit fills its Cinemascope frame with lovely cartoon vistas and nice action setpieces, but it never quite finds a story worth telling, or an effective way of telling it. Because only the protagonist speaks, and then only in voiceover, when the film doesn't feature scenes of its characters whinnying at one another while exchanging meaningful glances, it relies on Bryan Adams' songs to do the job. (For example, a chorus of "Never gonna give it, never gonna give it up, nooo..." emphasizes Spirit's commitment to not giving up.) In a way, Adams' music is perfect for the film: It's objectionable only because it seems purposefully drained of all flavor. Following The Prince Of Egypt and The Road To El Dorado, Spirit is Dreamworks' third foray into conventional animation, and it shares those films' virtues and faults. It's handsomely mounted, and its heart seems in the right place, but that's not reason enough to put on a show.

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