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Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

Movie. Directed by Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook. DVD RRP $US13.99.

July 18, 2002

reviewed by Margaret Agnew

Not just for the littlies or horse-mad girls, the latest Dreamworks animated feature is a new-style western with heart.

Told from a wild horse's perspective, this is not your usual modern cartoon. For one thing, there's only one celebrity voice -- narrator Matt Damon. For another, the animals don't talk, let alone sing.

Don't expect a wise-cracking, smart-alec donkey among these superior steeds. The closest this film gets to a side-kick for its main character, Spirit, is a beautifully rendered eagle, which acts as a metaphor for freedom.

Very little movement is exaggerated for effect -- live-action film characters fly further when kicked by horses than in this animation. There's nothing too cartoon-like, if you get my meaning.

The story of Spirit, a stallion born to run free on the vast plains of the wild west, is a minor American history lesson on the cruel taming of the land and its original inhabitants. The time when horses roamed in herds is rapidly coming to an end -- the white man and his railroad are encroaching.

When Spirit is captured by bad white men who wield such instruments of torture as ropes, branding irons, spurs, and whips, he refuses to be broken, and gains an enemy in the cavalry colonel. In his adventures he also meets a pretty blue-eyed mare called Rain, who stays with the young brave, Little Creek, by choice.

Told from Spirit's perspective, Matt Damon's voice-over is almost unnecessary. The experienced creators are able to tell a good story with little or no dialogue, and without talking down to the audience.

The dramatic music by award-winning composer Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, The Lion King) and songs by Bryan Adams (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Don Juan DeMarco) fit the film well and aid the story. It's only once or twice that the little kids may get restless through the musical numbers.

While there is the odd bit of black and white simplicity in the tale -- the cavalry are the baddies, the Native-Americans are the goodies -- this is over-all a beautifully coloured, finely detailed portrayal of largely believable action. The four-legged herbivores, while given eyebrows and eyes with larger whites, positioned to the front of their "faces", still manage to look realistically horsey and can portray a wide range of emotions, including genuine-looking distress. Even the "two-leggeds" are drawn as individuals, unlike some recent animated features, like Ice Age.

Granted, there are some corny moments -- a few unlikely horse-saves-human, horse- saves-horse, human-saves-horse rescues, and the reunited stallion and mare galloping towards each other across a field is a bit much -- but if you're willing to relax your more cynical reflexes for 96 minutes, this is an enjoyable ride for all the family.



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