“I’m never going to ride you, am I? And no one ever should.” – Little Creek
Do you know how refreshing it is to watch a movie that doesn’t rely on talking animals? I mean, I LOVE talking animals. I love Disney and it’s talking animals, and its animals that are anthropomorphized or animals that don’t talk but act like humans (yes I realize that’s pretty much the same thing). But man – I forget how great it is when they don’t talk and they actually act like the animal is supposed to act. Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, is a good example of this type of movie done right. Our titular mustang, Spirit, does talk, but it’s more thought and narration: he’s telling us the story of what happened as it happens as its all in his head. He never actually opens his lips and talks to a human, or even to other horses in a way we could understand.
Ok, I’m going to admit this to everyone: to this day, I still bawl like a baby during this movie; especially at the beginning. It’s not because it’s overly happy or overly sad, but it’s more personal for me. As discussed in my previous review (chicken run), I moved with my family from Arizona to New Jersey in the summer of 2000. When this movie came out, I never saw it in theaters, but a year or two later I saw it, and for whatever reason, the song “I will always return” really struck a chord with me. Because It’s how I feel about Arizona. To me, that will always be home. So in the beginning when Spirit is running through the mountains of his home, and at the end when he returns, I get it. I get his love of this place he calls home. Because I have it to, and I’m guessing a lot of people do; that place that is yours no matter what. That place that will never change, and the place you always belong to.
With all the mushy stuff out of the way, let’s dive right into what Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is about. Long story short, it’s about the adventures of a stallion named Spirit in the Old west in the 1800s. I don’t know if they ever say a time period, but it’s whenever they were hooking up the railroad across the Rocky mountains. Anyway, he gets captured, is attempted to be broken, escapes with a Lakota indian, who then captures him again and in his ways tries to ride him. With this boy he meets another horse, who acts as our love interest. When the white men come to destroy the village he gets caught again and sent to pull a locomotive over a mountain, escapes, and eventually is reunited with the Lakota boy for one more round with the scary white men before returning to the wild with his love interest and living free.
I will be honest: upon repeated viewings, this movie isn’t all that amazing. It’s not breaking any barriers or showing people a new way to do things. What it is, however, is entertaining. I have many issues with this movie, but I want to talk about what I like about this movie first before I start complaining about a movie that could have been extremely awesome.
My favorite thing about this movie is the relationship that ends up forming between the Lakota boy (Little Creek) and Spirit. It teaches respect of the horse, whereas the white man general didn’t have any and believed the horse needed to be beaten into submission (this still goes on btw – sad). While the white man used abuse and force to attempt to break spirit, Little Creek spends who knows how long just attempting to earn his trust, walk up near him, and ride him. In the end he even admits that he never will ride him, and that no one ever should. He then lets him go, but comes after him when Spirit gets captured again. That’s friendship. Only when they are in trouble and there’s a fire raging that Spirit lets him on his back, showing that trust has been established. I love this. It shows that respect and patience are what grant you amazing friendships. You can’t be forceful. Something I think we all should remember.
The animation is this movie is also pretty amazing. The scenery is gorgeous, and I’m super happy that it was done in 2d hand drawn animation (this was around the time cgi was starting to majorly overtake animation styles). I am a traditional animation nerd. I think it’s so much prettier. But that’s another story for another day. Anyway… not only is the scenery great, but the animation of the characters faces (especially Spirit’s) is amazing. This horse is so expressive. If we didn’t have words, we’d still know what he was thinking. Yet they still managed to make him look like a real horse. He’s not overly cartoony, which is another thing I like. I also like that (for the most part – see below) they got the behavior of a horse down. I’ve been around horses my whole life, and a lot of stuff was really great. The way they whinny and throw their heads. The way they greet each other, or the way their ears move. Even some of the subtle stuff that only horse people would pick up on is correct. It’s done very well.
Alright. No onto things I didn’t like about the movie:
- HORSES DO NOT DRINK WATER BY LICKING!!! This bugs me every single time I watch it and it’s just laziness on the animators’ part. Really, none of them even thought to watch how a horse drinks? Especially after they got everything else right about horse behavior. LAZY LAZY LAZY
- This is very much a one character movie (maybe 2 if you count Little Creek). I’m not saying I want a ton of characters, but it would have been nice to develop some of the characters more, especially the general. I want depth to my villains!! I also want depth to my love interests. Seriously. Rain seems like the stupidest horse ever because we don’t know anything about her. The only thing of importance she does is teach Spirit that humans can be trusted and prances around with Little Creek. I also think her animation style is more cartoony, and that always really bugged me. Something is just off with her.
- Sometimes Spirit just does not stop talking to himself. I feel like some of the scenes could have been done with much less speaking. Or less reactive “talking” on his part. Almost that they would have been more beautiful if they had been done without talking.
- I HATE how this movie says “you be the judge of if we won or not” in the beginning. Because if anyone knows anything about american history, then no, they didn’t win. If you think of it like that, it becomes a very depressing movie. Because eventually the Lakota were killed or westernized, the railroad went right through Spirit’s homeland, and his children were probably rounded up and sold.
I’m trying not to rant too much, that’s why I put those in bullets. I tend to blab if I do that, and while some thing might be entertaining, I don’t want to just talk with no point (kinda like I’m doing now). I do, however, want to discuss one thing:
You can blame college biology for this, but I’ve decided that a big part of me hates when movies talk about native animals and horses are included. Because in all honesty, they are NOT NATIVE. All the mustangs we have in the US were escaped horses that Europeans brought over. They are still domestic. In fact, they do much more damage to the wilderness than good. They trample the native plants, eat them, and disrupt the food chain by doing so.
Now I know this is a kids movie. And I know kids are supposed to like wild horses and everything and want to see them run free. I know i’m looking way too deep into it, and I shouldn’t, but part of me still sits there and roots for the general to break the stallion. I’m a horrible person. It’s just been drilled into my head that invasive species (species that are non-native that cause problems and/or disrupt the existing ecology) are bad. This is one bad thing that has come to pass with me watching this movie now vs. When I was younger (damn you college!).
To sum up, if you have kids, I would give this movie a watch. If you like horses, or even history, then give this movie a watch. There’s a lot of really great things in it, and a lot of awkward/not so great things. Most of them I feel are nit picky and pertain to me, and I know a lot of people who thoroughly enjoyed this movie. If they took the time to fix a few of the major issues (HORSES DON”T LICK!!!) I would have less of an inclination to sigh when I watched it. But for what it is, it’s great. Watch it and make up your mind. You won’t have to deal with talking horses and peppy songs. Instead, you deal with the inner monologue of Matt Damon, beautiful scenery, and one wild romp.
I give Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002) a 3 out of 5.
Next up: How to Train Your Dragon