Treasure Planet (2002)

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Disclaimer:  I’m cheating with this one. I don’t own this movie. It’s on Netflix.  This is the only Disney movie I don’t own that I’m reviewing, and it’s for good reason.

Disclaimer #2: I’m freaking going to kill this review. I worked on it for literally 2 weeks, then lost it on the browser. I have no idea where it went. Jesus. Now I have to try and recreate the whole freaking thing. And it was so good. UGH!! I’m sorry if this reads a bit rough. I’m not editing. I just want this to be over with.

So I’m going to do this review a bit differently than some of my other ones. If anything, I’m going to lay it out like my Black Cauldron or Beauty and the Beast review. Why? Because this movie needs a review like that. Why? Because this movie was one of the most expensive bombs out there! How bad? It cost $180 Million to make. It made only $38 Million in the US, and when all was said and done, it only garnered $110 Million total. It never made its money back.

Now I’m not really one to judge bombs. Especially Disney bombs. In fact, if we did that, no one would think twice of Disney movies we now call “classic.” Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland. They all “bombed” at the box office. Now I know the 40s-60s is a different time frame, but still.

So we’re going to try and figure out this movie. And to do that, I’m going to attempt to ask two very important questions: Why did this movie bomb? and Is it really worth that title? Is it that bad?

Let’s dive right in with that first question for which I have a few theories:

Exactly Why did this movie bomb?

I had absolutely no want to see this movie. I remember seeing trailers and going, “uh… ok….” but that was it. When it showed up on Netflix a few years ago, I stuck it in my queue because it was one of the few Disney movies I hadn’t seen. Then one day I shrugged to myself and went “Ok, let’s see how bad this is.”

I went in with a preconceived notion of how this movie was going to be. But why? Why did this movie look horrible? I think it all starts with a question that everyone who has ever heard of this movie probably asked themselves:

So wait… this is Treasure Island but… in… space…? What…? Why…?

I would be lying if I said I understood why Disney felt the need to take Treasure Island and set it in space. It’s weird. A straight up adaptation of Treasure Island would have been amazing. A Complete sci-fi reimagining would have been weird, but accepted. Instead, we get this strange hybrid of the two. Think I’m kidding?

Let's play a game called guess the time period...

Let’s play a game called guess the time period…

In this movie, the characters all look like they’re from Robert Louis Stevenson’s book. They dress like they live in the 17th century. They use old style pirate ships and steering, coal burners and telescopes. They live in tudor style houses full of wooden furniture.

But then they also have technology to make these pirate ships fly (with artificial gravity and apparently a atmosphere bubble around them? we never actually see that… apparently these people can just breathe in space). They have cyborgs and hover crafts and laser technology and 3D books and solar sails.

How do these two things co-exist??

This is what a lot of critics didn’t like about this movie. The style is really bizarre, and I’d be lying if I said it was easy to get used to. The two don’t fit together in the way you want it. Why do these technologically advanced people still use fire to cook and live in wooden houses? I dunno. Maybe it’s set in a galaxy far far away….

I think I lot of people brushed this movie off because the style was weird. Because they didn’t understand why Disney just didn’t do a straight up adaptation. So they didn’t go see it. But you have to understand something. In 2002, Disney actually had competition. Pixar was huge, and Dreamworks had just had a big hit with Shrek. They were trying anything to make themselves seem cool. If taking a well known story and tweaking it to look “fresh” was what it took, then that’s what they did. Which leads me to my next theory on why this thing bombed….

Disney tried to appeal to a demographic they just can’t win with. This is the third movie I’ve reviewed that has shown Disney trying to appeal to the older male demographic (the other two being Black Cauldron and Atlantis). Now don’t get me wrong, this one is definitely the best, and has the ability to appeal to younger kids as well, but you would have never known that with the trailer, the music (really? you got Johnny Reznick, the head of the Goo Goo Dolls? gee, you’re not trying to appeal to teenagers in 2002…) or the main character.

Let’s talk about Jim Hawkins for a moment: In the book, Jim is a 12-13 year old honest, hard working, clever boy who is obedient and loves his family, his mother, and is willing to do anything for her.

In Treasure Planet, we get this:

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I’m guessing this Jim (voiced by Joseph Gordon Levitt) is at least 14 if not older, and just look at him! Ohhh Disney you try way too hard. He’s got the cool (bizarre) hair! He rides hover boards! He gets arrested! But oh, he’s just misunderstood. It’s like Disney put a giant sign on this kids chest that read: Come see this movie! Look at me, I’m just like you!!!

Don’t get me wrong: Jim is actually a great character and a wonderful protagonist. I actually really like his character. He acts out because his dad left. He’s a screw up because that’s what everyone keeps telling him he is, so he’s started believing it. He thinks he has no potential and messing around and getting arrested is the only thing he’s got to look forward to. It’s only after Billy Bones gives him the map to Treasure Planet and they get on the ship that we see Jim for what he really is. This kid has a ton of potential. He’s a hard worker, and he’s smart. He’s good with fixing machines. He’s got a big heart, always thinking of his mother and how he can use the treasure they’re going to find to help her.

Disney ruined all of that with a cool guy character design in my opinion. The trailers show him surfing around on his hover board. They don’t show us any of his personality. They never showed us anything at all. Except how cool he is and “oh look at all our awesome CGI ships”. When Disney tries too hard to appeal to an audience they’re not used to marketing to, they lose out. Which is a shame with this movie, because like I said – it does have things in there for the kids (I’ll get to that later – for better or worse).

My last theory as to why this movie bombed really has to do with the designs of the characters. Some of the character designs are great. We’ve got lots of aliens and the vast majority of them are very cool/weird looking. Even some of our main characters designs are wonderful, like Doppler and Arrow and Silver. But for every three of those, you have a Captain Amelia:

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Now I know there are a lot of people who like this character, so let me be clear that I am not saying her character is an issue. She’s a wonderful character voiced by the ever amazing Emma Thompson. That’s not my problem. My problem, and I think maybe where a lot of people had problems, were in the design of characters like her. It’s a little too human/cat hybrid. It’s weird. It’s like your brain doesn’t know where to put her. Contrast that with Dopper, who’s a dog:

He doesn't like guns...

He doesn’t like guns…

Yes, he’s a strange dog/human hybrid too, but I feel like his features lend itself to that more than hers do. This is just one example. Some of the character designs are just…. weird. like Jim’s hair. Or some of the pirates. Sure they’re unique, but maybe they’re a little too unique.

So there you go: my three theories on why this movie bombed. 1) it wasn’t what people were looking for, 2) Disney marketed it wrong/to the wrong people, and 3) strange off-putting character designs.

Now let’s dive into that second, much harder to answer question: Is it really worth that title? Is it that bad?

My short answer is no, but that wouldn’t be any fun. Instead, let’s think of some other universally well known bombs: Battlefield Earth. Waterworld. Mars Needs Moms. Sahara. Now really… should this movie be included with those? Those movies had horrible plots, horrible characters and just were…. weird. How does Treasure Planet Measure up?

First of all, I’d like to mention that for a bomb, this movie has the highest Rotten Tomatoes rating I’ve ever seen (68%). That should tell you something. This isn’t a bad movie. Not even the critics totally panned it.

So the story? Well, Treasure Island is an incredibly well known story that had been adapted countless times. Things have been changed, characters have been forgotten, but the general story is still there in all of these adaptations. The fact it’s been adapted so many times leads me to believe that it’s not that story, unless Disney changed it a shit ton. Now I’ve never read the book, so I only have other movies to compare it to, and other sources online. Here’s what I found out about Disney, Treasure Island, and its adaptation into a space movie.

This movie is an extremely faithful adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

Say what?

That’s right. When all is said and done, this movie keeps a lot of the book intact. So obviously the story is not the problem. The story is great. We have changes because of the setting and the fact it’s Disney, but everything is extremely well done. One of the changes (which I’ll talk about later) is something I actually was hoping was in the book. But it’s not. Boo. Because it’s that good.

So what about those characters? We’ve got classics here! Long John Silver, Jim Hawkins, Mr. Arrow, Billy Bones, etc. Did Disney screw them up?

I’ve already talked about Jim and how they changed him. But honestly I think it works with this movie, the story, and the other characters. Having Jim start out as a criminal who thinks he’s just a screw up actually lends to his character being able to change and grow more throughout the movie than just having him be some smart obedient kid out for an adventure. Some of our smaller characters from the book, Trelawney and Livesey, have been combined into one made up character named Dr. Doppler (which was written specifically for the ever amazing David Hyde Pierce).  It works well, and Doppler is one of the better characters in the movie, built for humor but also good nature.

Then there’s Silver. In the book, Long John Silver is the epitome of a pirate: He chooses what side to be on based on how it can help him, he’s ruthless and smart and driven. He kept himself distanced from everyone, except Jim, whom he grew fond of. Stevenson also made Long John Silver a bit more frugal than other pirates in his book, though. He knew when to spend money and when to give up. He also never let his disability (his peg leg) slow him down.

Long John Silver is a great literary character. Somehow, Disney took this character and made him Better. That’s right, I said it. They made him better.

In the movie, Silver is a cyborg. He has a peg leg, but he also has a cyborg arm that’s like a swiss army knife and a mechanical eye. His design is one of my favorites in the movie. I could go on and on about it. I really like the arm, because it lends for some interesting scenes and some good tension build up in others, as you see him seamlessly shift from his hand to a gun behind his back.

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But his design isn’t what makes Silver so great. What makes him great and what makes him better in this movie than in other adaptations is that he’s deeper emotionally than a lot of other characters. Most of his emotional depth comes from his relationship with Jim. This is where this movie really soars.

Silver is originally in this story for one purpose only: to steal the map to Treasure Planet, cause a mutiny, and steal the treasure. It’s his dream. Then this kid shows up: a kid who’s stubborn but puts up with everything the guy can throw at him. Jim’s a hard worker, and Silver realizes it: maybe even sees a bit of himself in him. A friendship begins, and before long you could argue that Silver really loves this kid. He sees the potential in him when Jim can’t see it in himself. Silver sees this kid is destined for greatness. And that’s where things get complicated. Even he mentions he’s getting in too deep.

There’s a scene in which you understand his true emotions. It’s also the moment that Jim finds out the truth behind who Silver actually is. A crew member, Scroop, had just seen the two (Silver and Jim) up on deck, and the guy accuses Silver of growing soft. He lashes out and tells them all it was just an act to cozy up to the kid. Jim, of course, is hiding in a barrel, and his trust is shaken in the guy for the rest of the movie, understandably. But there’s this moment where the rest of the crew leaves, Jim is still in the barrel, and you see this look from Silver. In that moment, you realize that it wasn’t Jim he lied to, it was the crew. It’s at that moment that he realizes he can’t feel what he wants, and that to save his skin (and maybe Jim’s too) he has to carry on with the plan. It’s just for a split second, but you feel what he feels. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a Silver Character quite give that look before.

Once they’re on the Planet, Silver and Jim’s relationship is tested. Silver tries to tell him the truth, but Jim doesn’t believe him. It’s only after they’re in the belly of the planet and Silver is torn between a boatload of treasure and saving Jim’s life that we understand where his true allegiance lies. This is a scene that isn’t in the book, and it plays very well. And I kinda like that he’s the only Disney Villain who’s ever redeemed himself.

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This movie is worth watching for Jim and Silver alone. It’s extremely well done and is a huge strength of the movie. So to say that this movie is horrible, doesn’t have heart, and doesn’t have good characters is just stupid.

Now it does have it’s good characters, but not everything is unbelievably amazing. This isn’t the best Disney movie by far, nor does it deserve to be. It has tons of issues (most of which I pointed out answering my first question). To that list I’d like to add just one more.

I mentioned how Disney marketed this to an older audience when you could argue they didn’t have to. Disney’s always been good about the side characters, and this one isn’t lacking. This movie, unlike Atlantis, feels like a Disney movie. To me, the side characters in this movie exist for the kids. Doppler’s funny, Morph (see below) is just the best.

I could do an entire blog entry on how awesome Morph is

I could do an entire blog entry on how awesome Morph is

Then there’s B.E.N. People have called B.E.N. (voice by Martin Short) the Jar Jar Binks of animation. I’m not going to disagree. This movie had a ton of momentum, and then we meet this robot who is missing his memory and has been stranded on Treasure Planet, and we lose it. He’s desperate for attention, and is super annoying. But believe it or not this is not a creation of Disney’s. That’s right. Ben is actually a character plucked right out of the book – same story and everything (at least the being marooned on the island part… not the memory part).

Even Jim and Morph look annoyed with him

Even Jim and Morph look annoyed with him

I would turn off the movie the second we meet B.E.N, but then I would miss a bunch of good scenes. But he is a pain. So is that alien who speaks in farts. As if we didn’t know you put that in there just to get kids to laugh, Disney….

So let’s return to our question: Is it really worth that title? Is it that bad?

No. It’s not. This movie should not have been a bomb. It’s not bad. There are many more horrible Disney movies out there. In fact, the more I watch it, the more this movie really grows on me. This movie has something that makes me keep coming back. It has heart. It has characters that make you care about them. It has a villain that is the most interesting character in the entire movie. Whatever this movie is, it should not have been a bomb.

If you haven’t seen it, give it a watch. Really. You might think it’s weird, and you might think I’m crazy for liking it as much as I claim to. It has a lot of issues, but if you can see through it, it’s worth it. It’s going on my Disney’s Underrated movies list. Although I still think just a straight up adaptation in the ocean would have been good too…

I give Treasure Planet (2002) a 3 out of 5.

Up Next: Brother Bear (2003)

 

Lilo & Stitch (2002)

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Quick: Think of one thing you never thought you’d see in a Disney movie.

If you said Aliens or a lot of violence, your mind and my own think alike. Funny then that the next two Disney Animated movies have both. I don’t know why, but I never thought Disney would go for Aliens, at least back then. Now, well, I guess I’m used to it. Because they’ve done it multiple times (3 movies in the 00s have aliens…) and I guess it’s not “weird” to me anymore.

But back in 2002 when this came out, it was bizarre. Not only to see Aliens as major characters, but to see a good amount of “intergalactic” violence in the first 10 minutes of the movie (seriously, that’s why it was rated PG). I remember sitting in the theater watching this movie during the first few minutes and thinking “ohhhh no. It’s gonna be like Atlantis. This is going to be awful.”

How did I feel about the end of the movie? You’ll just have to read more to find out.

This movie follows a little alien that was created by an evil genius scientist Jumba. Known to the other aliens in the galactic alliance as Experiment 626, he exists for the soul purpose of destruction. After escaping from the spaceship he’s being held captive, he crash-lands on the island of Kuai in Hawaii.

Here he poses as a dog and is adopted by a little girl named Lilo and her older sister/caretaker Nani. They’ve just lost their parents and are under scrutiny by a social worker named Cobra Bubbles, who is going to take Lilo away from Nani unless they can get their act together.

Lilo names her new “dog” stitch, and while Nani sets out to find a new job after being fired from her old one, Lilo sets off to lower the badness level in stitch and teach him to be a model citizen. Things go awry because of stitch, and Cobra Bubbles says he’s coming the next morning to claim Lilo and take her to a better home.

Ah yes, we also have the creator of stitch, Jumba, and an agent Pleakley hunting for the little creature on earth. They cause some trouble trying to get to him, Lilo finds out he’s an alien and accidentally gets captured. Nani forces Stitch to talk and explain everything, and along with Jumba and Pleakley, they go rescue Lilo

(That’s a really shitty plot explanation, but in all honesty I’m getting tired of writing the plots of these movies out. It’s boring. Part of me just wants to tell people to just watch the darn thing.)

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This movie is unbelievable. I would call it an underrated masterpiece, but I think it’s popular enough that it doesn’t quite fall under that category. There was a tv show and everything, so obviously kids liked it. But I still don’t think enough people know about this movie, at least in my generation. This is kinda when we were in high school and Disney became “too kiddy.” Whatever. I watched it then, and I watch it now. I’m a Disney fan till I die!

This movie is so different on so many levels, but it manages to have the components that make for a very recognizable Disney movie. At times, it almost feels more Pixar than Disney (A sentiment I will share again with another Disney movie before the revival). Why do I feel this? Well… it makes you cry, it has heart, it’s quirky, it’s funny. You know, all that stuff.

So why is it so different? Well, Aliens for one. We have an entire intergalactic control center, strange looking creatures, and a culture and rules that exist in the world outside our own. I see the Aliens both as a strength and a weakness in this movie. Yes they needed to exist because Stitch IS an alien, and during the majority of the movie they remain in the background, but the beginning and the end are just SO different from the rest of the movie that sometimes it’s distracting. The first 10 minutes is nothing like the rest of the movie. I know that’s kinda the point, but it’s weird.

At the same time, the way they tied the two “worlds” together is a bit ingenious, and hilarious. Earth is known as Area 51 to the Aliens, and it’s a protected wildlife refuge to help grow the numbers of the mosquito, which is apparently an endangered species in the universe. At the end of the movie we find out the social worker Cobra Bubbles was a CIA officer in Roswell, met the grand councilwoman, and was the one to convince them not to attack because of the mosquitos. Because of this strange connection, you can look back on the rest of the movie and go “oh, ok, it isn’t that weird because these are the aliens that have come to earth before.” I dunno. Maybe that’s how I justify it in my head.

The Aliens have the ability to detract from this movie in another way, because of the double story layout of this movie. We have one story of the Aliens trying to extract Stitch from Hawaii, but then we also have the story about Lilo, Nani, David, and Stitch. This could have been so awful. We could have gotten a ton with the aliens and it would have been weird to move back and forth, but Disney knew where to draw the line, and they knew what was really at the heart of this movie. I think that’s why this movie works with the aliens and with the double story. This movie knew what it wanted to accomplish, and it did it well.

So what was its goal? Well, essentially Lilo & Stitch explores the idea of “what is a family.” This is actually a unique goal for a Disney movie to have in mind, and one that we get over and over again in this down period between the Renaissance and the Revival. Family has been mentioned before in disney movies, but not to this depth, and not with this much raw dramatic emotion. This movie is real. it doesn’t paint a perfect family. It paints a broken one. It shows the struggles of real life through its characters. In fact, these are probably the most real (human) characters Disney have ever created.

Let’s take Lilo. First off, I love this kid. I would be friends with this child simply because of how weird, overly dramatic, imaginative, and appreciative of older music she is. On a first watch, that’s what you see her as. She’s a strange child who’s having issues fitting in and wants nothing more than a friend. But then you learn her backstory, and she becomes so much more.

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I really wonder if Disney talked with child Psychologists when they made this movie. Lilo’s parents died in a car crash on a rainy night. In the beginning of the movie, Lilo is late to practice because she has to give Pudge the fish a peanut butter sandwich. Why? Because he controls the weather. She has to give Pudge a sandwich because if she doesn’t, something bad might happen again. It’s a ritual that makes me feel like she’s in control of her life and those of people she loves.

Every other action this child does can be brought back to show that this is how she’s coping with her parents’ death. She acts out at the other kids because she doesn’t know how to deal with her anger and depression. They treat her weird because, as Nani points out, “They just don’t know what to say.” Who knows? maybe her obsession with Elvis is also because of her parents. Maybe they loved him. We do see that picture of the family where the dad is playing a guitar.

 

Lilo is an amazing character.

Her background and her actions and feelings are what gives her the strength to deal with Stitch. it’s been shown that animals can be lifesavers for children who are going through a hard time, and I bet this is what Nani was hoping. And stitch is, just not in the way anyone thought. Because he’s messed up too. But that’s not what Lilo sees when she sees him being bad: she sees someone that needs her help no matter what. And that: that’s the greatest love story this movie has.

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Stitch makes us think about the whole idea of nature vs. nurture. He was an experiment: he has no family, he has no friends, and he was created for one purpose: to destroy. But when he can’t do that, what’s left? He thinks he needs to do what he was created for, and so he makes the lives of Lilo and Nani a living hell, until he realizes that there’s more to life than just what someone tells you. That you don’t have to do what someone programmed you to do, and he latches onto the idea of a family through the Ugly Duckling book and the first time he hears “Ohana.” He spends the whole movie discovering what’s so great about a family, thinking he has to leave to find his. But he learns that family doesn’t have to look like you. They don’t have to be blood. They just have to love you and accept you for who you are.

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“I found it, all on my own. It’s little, and broken… but still good. Yeah… still good.”

He learns to trust during the movie, and he learns to let go of hate, in the meantime helping Lilo do the same and move on. His loyalty to her is shown, especially at the end of the movie. He’s willing to do anything to protect her because she helped him understand himself.

"Nobody gets left behind."

“Nobody gets left behind.”

The other really amazing character in this movie is Nani, Lilo’s older sister. This is the other relationship that really gets explored in this movie, and it’s done well. I think we all forget that while Lilo is dealing with the loss of her parents, so is Nani. She just has the added stress of stepping into a parenting role for her sister, becoming a soul wage-earner, and managing everything. Lilo makes her upset and does things she can’t understand, but to Nani, she’s just trying whatever she can to keep her sister there. She’s the only family she has left, and Nani’s willing to do anything to keep it together. She’s not a parent, she’s a sister. we see her struggle with this, struggle with life, having no time for fun of her own, and struggle to find her place in the world. She’s an amazing character, even if she’s not the focus of the movie.

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If you don’t feel sad during this scene you have no heart.

Our other minor characters in this movie are good as well, and they work to help move the story along or offer support for our main characters. We have David, the boy who has a crush on Nani and is there to remind them all that fun can help relieve stress. We have Jumba and Pleakley, the two aliens that have been charged with extracting “experiment 626.” I will note that these two have a hilarious chemistry, and I love the fact that Jumba is a mad scientist that creates life. I love that they just gloss over the morality of that. What’s up with that?

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Pleakley and Jumba

The animation on this movie is utterly beautiful. I’m not talking about the intergalactic parts, I’m talking about Hawaii, where most of the movie takes place. They used watercolors for backgrounds, which is unique and lends to an atmosphere that’s not seen in a lot of Disney movies. The designs of the human characters are realistic (for once!) but stylized. The Alien designs are fun and not creepy in the least. They’re almost all chimeras of different animals, so they’re recognizable but still unique enough. I love the design of the grand councilwoman.

I only have a few random things to say about this movie that don’t justify full paragraphs:

~ This movie is hilarious. Some of these lines are the best in any Disney movie: “My friends need to be punished.” “Did you ever kill anyone? – We’re getting off subject.”

Also this...

Also this…

~This is the first Disney movie set in the present time since The Rescuers Down Under (at least I’m assuming. Although I guess Lion King could have taken place in present time…)

~There are no sung songs in this movie, but we do get some great Hawaiian inspired songs that are in the background. I love them. We also get Elvis. Go Disney.

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~Every license plate in this movie is A113. For those of you who like easter eggs.

~Stitch is the best creature this side of Toothless. That’s a fact.

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I’m literally sitting here wracking my brain trying to figure out where to put this movie in my rankings. I love this one. It’s just so real and so sweet, but it’s also weird and a bit uneven. I love the sisters. I love Stitch. I love the idea of “Ohana.” I love that Disney explored the idea of family. I just. Ugh. We’ll see where it ends up.

Watch it if you’ve never seen it. You won’t be sorry. And you just might cry when Stitch wanders into the woods and says “I’m lost.” Cause we’ve all felt that before.

I give Lilo and Stitch (2002) a 4.2. Solid

Up Next: Treasure Planet (2003)

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)

“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