Film Reviews: Wednesday, May 30, 2002
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron\r\nVoices by Matt Damon and James Cromwell. Directed by Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook. Written by John Fusco. Rated G.
High Plains Drifter

Wild horses canít drag any life into the maudlin Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.

By Kristian Lin

You were born with the pride of the lords great and olden / Who danced, through the ages, in corridors golden ... O bronco that would not be broken of dancing.Ē Thus wrote Vachel Lindsay in his ode to the horse thatís a metaphor for the human spirit that refuses to submit. As a hardened male urbanite whoís always been particularly resistant to most forms of nostalgia, I must confess the romance of horses roaming on the open plain has never held much for me. Nevertheless, I think thereís more than that to why Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron doesnít work.

The movieís title character is a proud stallion who leads a herd of wild horses in the Great Plains during the latter half of the 19th century. Thankfully, the horses donít speak to each other in human voices, so weíre spared scads of embarrassing dialogue. Instead, Matt Damonís voiceover narrates the story from Spiritís point of view. U.S. soldiers capture him and corral him, and a scowling Army colonel (voiced by James Cromwell) tries to tame him, but they canít break Spirit, because heís meant to run free! Like the wind!

This burst of irony is occasioned by the fact that the movie has none of that quality. Being irony-free isnít necessarily a bad thing, but it sure is here. The unrelieved celebration of a bygone time and the wearisomely simplistic characters will make you long for the relative subtlety of Disneyís Pocahontas. The filmís forced and unbearably cutesy attempts at humor mostly revolve around Spirit abusing his military captors (although, truthfully, theyíre about as menacing as the henchmen in Disney musicals). Later, the horse is rescued by a gentle Lakota Indian (voiced by Daniel Studi). The unmistakable implication is that the natives know how to treat the horses ó a politically correct stereotype that does no one any favors.

The hand-drawn animation looks fine, although the use of color is ham-fisted ó shiny bright colors to depict Spiritís idyllic life on the plain contrasted with gray shades for his life in captivity. The sequence with a train locomotive plummeting down the side of a hill is particularly notable. The thing is, itís only notable for the way itís drawn, because the script hasnít built any dramatic urgency into the situation; we donít care what happens when the train reaches the bottom. Unless itís flat-out extraordinary, the drawing style is irrelevant when the story and characters arenít there. Look no further than Ice Age for proof of that.

If you need one more nail in this movieís coffin, the soundtrack is loaded with Bryan Adams songs. Believe it or not, this project actually makes the scratchy-voiced rocker look worse than usual, because his syrupy, witless songs add so little to the dramatic context. (ďI hear the wind call your name / It calls me back home again.Ē He ainít Vachel Lindsay, thatís for sure.) Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is about running free in the Old Westís vast expanses, but thereís no air in this movieís open plains. Just treacle.

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