Spirit: Like my father before me, I became leader of the Cimarron herd. And with that honor came responsibility.
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
Dreamworks has always been adept in many 3D animated movies such as Chicken Run, the How to Train your Dragon Trilogy, the first two Shrek movies, etc. But they also had a couple of hand-drawn movies that are quite underrated. Among them being the topic of today’s review. It’s quite different from other Dreamworks movies. And being different proves to be quite the ambitious movies in ways that aren’t given enough credit.
The story involves a Mustang stallion living in the Old West during the 19th century who is captured by human horse traders and sold to a cavalry regiment stationed at a frontier outpost. A cruel colonel tries to tame the horse and break his spirit but fails to do so. The horse escapes along with another captive, a Native boy named Little Creek and the two try to find their way back home encountering many dangers, witness various landscapes, and come across various other characters as the horse faces conflict of who he is and where he belongs.
The thing that stands out about this movie is that the animals don’t talk (outside of a voiceover narration of the Spirit’s thoughts). Not that I have anything against talking or singing animals but it’s particularly difficult to pull off in an animated movie particularly when it’s your main but they manage to do so quite effectively. The expressions on Spirit are really well communicated considering that he is never able to speak and it does well in creating a well-defined character. The character of Spirit is very stubborn in his refusal to be tamed and in trying to get home but he has a noble heart in helping as many people as he can but he also has a bit of a mischievous side when he plays with Little Creek. While Little Creek is no more successful in taming Spirit than his captors, they at learn to understand and respect each other and the two have a pleasant chemistry despite being two different species. There’s also the character of another horse named Rain who proves to be a tough horse in her own right and who Spirit falls in love with. These aspects make him a character well worth rooting for and easy to get invested in whatever he’s involved with. Nothing ever feels too sappy or heavy-handed.
The movie’s animation is amazing and its overall look of nature lets it tell its own story without succumbing to the tropes of animation. There’s no over the top villain, no bizarre sidekick, or comic relief. Spirit and Little Creek don’t even talk to each other. The emotion is very much done through just the expressions, alone which is not easy to draw on a horse.
The rest of the movie’s animation is also great and really holds up after all these years. The designs on the horses make them look strong and vigorous. The environments and backdrops look downright beautiful. So much can be drawn from the backgrounds and the way it builds up the world of the wilderness and the old west and from beginning to end it is very breathtaking. It knows how to set a mood with its colors when it needs to be majestic or when it needs to be grim.
There are a couple of faults to the movie: One is the Bryan Adams music doesn’t always fit and some of the songs are quite forgettable. Thankfully this is remedied with Hans Zimmer’s score, which does manage to leave more of an impression.
Despite its faults nothing about Spirit truly goes into bad territory. It knows how to tell a story with some solid pacing, likable main characters, amazing animation, and an overall subtle and emotional vibe to it. And it’s something that Dreamworks can never taint—
OH COME ON!