Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron

on May 24, 2002 by Christine James
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   This animated family adventure takes the blinders off in its depiction of breaking horses as a grave cruelty. That may seem like harsh subject matter to those of us who still look over our shoulders in fear of Child Catcher, but the oppression of the innocent is as standard a component of G-rated fare as bacon cheeseburgers were in McDonald's “Babe” promo tie-in Happy Meals.

   The titular equine of “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” (voiced by Matt Damon) is the brave, zealous leader of a team of wild horses who run free in the lush, unspoiled American Frontier of the late 1800s. When Spirit encounters humans for the first time in the form of cavalrymen, he senses their potential threat and confronts them, risking his own safety to give his herd the chance to escape without being noticed. Despite giving a game chase, Spirit is caught and dragged against his considerable will to a fort, where a cruel colonel (James Cromwell) takes excessive measures to tame the formidable beast. A good-hearted Indian brave named Little Creek (Daniel Studi) also being held prisoner in the camp manages to free himself and Spirit, but must earn the stallion's trust and respect before the two can become friends. Deep bonds begin to form when the two are forced to team up against their mutual enemy, along with a new threat to the Old West: the railroad, and, by extension, the Industrial Age.

   Given the classic status bestowed upon such pioneering psyche-scarrers as “Bambi” and “Dumbo,” it would seem the animals-overcoming-heart-rending-adversity theme is a staple of the animated feature film genre, and even a rite of passage. Perhaps that storied formula is why the central moral seems to be more in service of the easy engagement of emotions than the raising of consciousness. But the messages, like the film's heroes, are as noble as can be: respect all life, live free or die, we're all the same under the skin. Less likely to be made into a state slogan or embroidered on a sweatshirt is the truism that even horse love interests are blonde-haired and blue-eyed. Voiced by Matt Damon, Daniel Studi and James Cromwell. Directed by Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook. Written by John Fusco. Produced by Mireille Soria and Jeffrey Katzenberg. A DreamWorks release. Animated/Adventure. Rated G. Running time: 85 min

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