Had I seen it before: Yes! This was one of my favorites during that weird horse girl phase I went through when I was like 8.
What IMDb says: A wild stallion is captured by humans and slowly loses the will to resist training. Yet throughout his struggles for freedom, the stallion refuses to let go of the hope of one day returning home to his herd.
– At least one G rated movie
– At least one movie centered around an animal
Why I picked it: I realized after I watched The Road to El Dorado just how many good Dreamworks movies came out around this time and it made me want to revisit some others. I was also in the movie section of Target with a friend a few weeks back when a question about the plot of this movie came up. I don’t remember what that question was. But I do remember thinking “wow, that was one of my favorite movies as a child and I’m not even sure I remember the basic plot. I should watch it again.” Today I was in the movie section of that same Target today, looking for Sing Street which apparently left Netflix the same moment that all the Targets ran out of copies. So I saw Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and figured “Well I guess this’ll have to do.”
What I liked about it: A common piece of advice given to screenwriters is that you can’t rely on dialog for exposition. Instead, you need to rely on actions and visuals to bring your audience into your world and introduce them to your characters. What makes Spirit interesting compared to a lot of animated animal-focused movies is that Spirit does not talk. We got some of this thoughts via voiceover, but he does not talk the way he might’ve if Disney had made this movie. What we learn about him we learn primarily through his choices, facial expressions, and behaviors.
We start the movie off with breathtaking imagery of the West. There’s some mildly poetic voiceover about how wonderful it was to live so free. It’s a brilliant beginning that shows us what Spirit’s reality is so that we truly feel his pain when that reality is taken away. We understand what’s going to motivate Spirit throughout the rest of the movie and how big a deal it is when some of the priorities start to shift.
The movie is actually full of great moments where we are able to understand what Spirit is thinking and feeling despite the absence of dialog. We get to see him build new relationships with Little Creek and Little Creek’s horse who’s name I don’t know. We get to explore their world alongside Spirit and it’s new and exciting and wonderful. Once again, the film accomplishes all this via visuals and actions and an expertly crafted soundtrack courtesy of Hans Zimmer and Bryan Adams. All of it is enough to make me really glad I re-watched it because I wasn’t able to fully appreciate all these intricacies when I was younger.
What I didn’t like: So. Much. Voiceover. As mentioned above, a lot of this movie is so well-done that 9 times out of 10, any voiceover we hear is just reiterating what we already learned. Part of me wants to be like “Now Anne, cut them some slack. It’s written for children.” And while it is true that when I watched this as a kid the voiceover never bothered me, 24-year-old Anne can’t help but think “Ok, but we don’t need to treat kids like they’re morons incapable of basic empathy towards a well written horse unless a voiceover tells them how to feel. I mean, they kept up with Wall-E didn’t they?”
It doesn’t help that Matt Damon isn’t a particularly compelling voice actor nor do I really think his voice is befitting of Spirit. Spirit is strong and confident and rebellious. Matt Damon sounds 15. Even the same copy (which I would still say could’ve been better written) MAY have worked if a deeper, more confident voice had read it. My pick is Nathan Fillion if you’re curious.
Will I watch it again: Most likely. I’m not sure this one will ever be on the same level as Mulan or The Lion King but I might have kids someday and if I do, there will come a time to teach my kids about how the US Government mistreated Native Americans. And when that day comes, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron will be there.