Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

Reviewed by: Douglas Downs

Better than Average
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Animated Adventure
1 hr. 22 min.
Year of Release:
Spirit and Rain in “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” Scene from Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron Scene from Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

Starring: James Cromwell, Matt Damon, Daniel Studi | Directed by: Kelly Asbury, Lorna Cook | Produced by: Jeffrey Katzenberg, Mireille Soria | Written by: John Fusco | Distributor: Dreamworks

I’ll admit it—I love history. I’ve often wondered what our present period of time will look like to future generations. Yesterday I met the mother of a baby that was born on 9/11. Her son was the only birth in our local hospital that tragic day. (He’s already been the focus of several news features.) What will his life be like? How will historians paint our present? DreamWorks’ animated feature Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron brings such thoughts to mind due to its historical setting. Just like the westerns of years past, this release has the cinematic power of filling in the past with color and imagination.

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is a politically correct mixed blessing. The story is a commentary on the conflict that exists between progress and freedom. We witness those struggles almost daily. For example, while we enjoy the freedom to buy and own land, you soon learn that with numerous building codes in existence you don’t really have the luxury of doing anything you wish. The villain in this modern parable for children is “Progress”.

Historically, our national progress has always impacted land and people. The story does hide the tragic plight of the Native American Indians, but our focus and pity is on the freedom of a single mustang. It will be difficult for children to sort out the values of the U.S. Cavalry, the American Railroad, and the Native American Indians. These issues were no different for the Baby Boomers out there that grew up watching the old westerns. The only consolation is that this time (like the movie “Dancing With Wolves”) the Indians are not the villains.

I did enjoy the animation used in “Spirit”. The wide Cinemascope ratio format was a nonverbal commentary on the progress of this art form. This film uses very detailed computer generated scenes that are for the most part geographically accurate renderings of the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Monument Valley. The visual experience truly can make you forget that you are watching a “cartoon”. I love these dying labors of dedication, but I’m afraid the wheels of digital progress will soon crush corporate affordability.

The score from Bryan Adams and composer Hans Zimmer is fantastic. Zimmer brings to this film a musical depth that many sugar-coated films of the same genre lack. (I’ll be enjoying my very own copy of this soundtrack once it is released.) I admire the courage of co-directors Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook to produce an animated masterpiece without the cutesy talking animals. The horses used sounds and body language to communicate and our children get to use their imaginations. Matt Damon as the narrative thoughts of our horse, Spirit, was nothing short of ingenious. The other voice cast talent was also good, but Matt’s voice especially was a believable vehicle to the entire presentation.

Our story centers around a mustang named Spirit in 18th century America. We witness his life right from birth. Spirit grows up and becomes the leader of a group of untamed horses. (Trivia: DreamWorks actually bought a Kiger Stallion named “Donner” for $50,000 as the live model for Spirit.) Along the way, Spirit is captured by the U.S. Cavalry who attempts to break him in. The Colonel (voiced by “Babe”’s gentle farmer James Cromwell) is very determined and persistent in this process. The Cavalry also have captured a Lakota brave named Little Creek (voice by Daniel Studi). Spirit is used by Little Creek to escape captivity. The parable begins to unfold the struggle that Spirit and Little Creek both must endure to enjoy freedom.

The story line is often naive and presents the traditional romantic view of the Wild West. I do challenge parents to use this film as a springboard to explore American history at their local library. Progress has always come with a price. 1,500,000 horses were killed during the Civil War, but horses enlisted in the Pony Express brought our country together.

It’s easy to criticize some aspects of progress while reaching for the TV remote. (We often fight developments in our churches on Sunday while buying a new DVD player on Monday.) Overall, I recommend “Spirit” as an excellent example of a fading art form. I sometimes struggle over the historical implications of yet another generation of children being reared without an accurate picture of American history. I’ll work hard to provide review information… parents please do your job of “teaching our children well.”

Viewer Comments
Comments below:
Positive—This movie was very enjoyable for myself and my 6yr old. In the movie some men capture the mustang and bring it to a base army camp where they try to break him which proves to difficult. So the general, who see this as a challenge tells the men to tie the horse to a post without food and water for 3 days, I guess to weaken him for their next attempt to ride him. They don’t show the horse suffering that much and I don’t think this will bother many kids. In this movie all the horses communicate with each other and express many times, their sadness of being tame or under man’s control. God gave us animals to use for many reason such as food to feed us, early transportation, to help work and prosper, and even as companions. You might want to tell your kids that God sees us using animals as a good thing but we must treat them with care.
My Ratings: [Good / 5]
Sherie, age 27
Positive—We enjoyed this film despite it being a bit too short for our expectations. A must-see for all horse lovers, it nicely captures the essence of freedom that the wild Mustang once enjoyed, however, it is predictable and best suited for children. Our kids, ten and seven years of age, were enthralled, and we were all captivated by the excellent artistry.

There is an underlying theme of seeking to “do what is right” on the part of both the horses and the young Indian. This would be a great tool for teaching youngsters everything from what happened during the Westward expansion, to being responsible stewards of our environment, to making the right choices in life. Although this was not a Christian film, we parents liked the fact that it did not address the Native American beliefs.
My Ratings: [Good / 4]
Harry, age 35
Positive—This is a good telling of a horse’s desire to be free. Although much of the movie portrays the evil white Cavalry officers and their leader and the desire to break this horse and domesticate it, it was not nearly on the level of “Dances with Wolves,” which portrayed the white man as totally evil. It still will portray the “noble savage” which is so politically correct today. But storyline is a good telling.

It is a good springboard for parents to show two styles of horse-breaking which occurred when wild horses roamed the wilds. Graphics were superb, communication between horses not terribly well understood by our 8-year-old (series of whinnies). But nothing objectionable enough to skip this movie. Good and entertaining if the family needs a night out, but just as good to wait for the video rental.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4½]
Corey Anderson, age 46
Neutral—My husband and I took our two sons, ages 7 and 10, to see this movie. My 10-year-old yawned, while my 7-year-old squirmed in his seat. They liked it okay, but not enough to want to see it again (as with Star Wars Episode II). As my 10-year-old said, “It’s mostly neighing and singing. Not much talking.” Since the story is told from a horse’s perspective, I think that’s alright. My opinion: It’s typical politically correct fare: Indian White man people, progress, and development free EXCELLENT. I enjoyed the scenery much more than the movie itself. I would have given it a 5 for movie-making quality, but the numerous and somewhat depressing songs made the movie seem longer that it was.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4]
Anita, age 40
Neutral—My 12 year old daughter loved this movie. I enjoyed the beautiful animation and scenery. The main horse-character, Spirit, is a charismatic figure you can’t help but like, and the romance between he and the mare is charming. The story is a politically correct rendering of history. The American Cavalry is pretty much all bad, the native Americans all good, horses as better still.

The life of a horse under humans is bad, but better under Indians than Cavalry. In real life, Native Americans were waging war and brutalizing each other long before Europeans came along. The role of the Cavalry was often in legitimate defense of people being attacked. The simplistic and distorted history should be talked about with our kids. My main problem with this movie has to do with the deeper message. The key point of the story is the glorification of personal freedom. Of course freedom is good but can also be bad, depending.

But that is not brought out in the film. It’s all good, the purpose of life. But a person who feels free to do whatever they want whenever they want and considers themselves unconstrained by any other principle than personal freedom is capable of (and often ends up doing) great evil. Healthy freedom is constrained by moral and social responsibility.

Freedom outside the bounds of God’s law is always bad. Freedom within God’s law is true freedom. We should talk to our kids about true freedom, and encourage them to pursue it with all their hearts.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4]
Leo, age 53
Negative—My 3 year old daughter cried through the whole movie, ended up leaving theater. Everytime something good happened another bad event took place. They could have had a lot less traumatic events for young movie goers.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 3]
Tom, age 23
Comments from young people
Positive—I’m an artist, and personally, I think the scenery was pretty incredible. The expressions and other non-verbal communication that the horses use to “speak” to each other really intrigued me. I love how observant the animators of this film must have been in portraying certain face expressions and emotions. I like that sort of thing. DreamWorks really has a way with drawing and animating their characters and scenery. I also like how they integrate everything together.

I’ve noticed in DreamWorks animation how smoothly the film runs where there’s just enough action and emotion to keep you interested and prevent you from falling asleep, but there’s not so much stuff going on that it overwhelms you and bounces around everywhere. Some Disney films are really annoying when they tend to get all schizophrenic; and the happy, neurotic, candy-coated music’s all playing; and things are bouncing on the screen all over the place! That sort of stuff makes me sooo irritated!

DreamWorks animation is really slick and I hope they continue to make good, family movies and continue to stick with their own (traditional) style of animation so that the art of traditional, hand-drawn animation never dies… Because frankly, I think “DISNEY IS WAAAY TOO OVERRATED!” Thank-you.
My Ratings: [Good / 5]
Yashi Rantaku, age 18
Positive—Spirit was a great movie. It was interesting as the horse told the story. Great for young children, they can but believe and dream that a wild stallion could really jump as far as it did. (When you see the movie, you’ll know what I mean)
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 5]
Dorothy-Ann, age 10
Positive—I thought this movie was great! I went with my dad, 12 year old brother, 4 year old brother, and 2 year old brother. If not for my brothers I wouldn’t have went, but I still thought it was a great movie. I know my brothers enjoyed it. This is definitely a movie the whole family can enjoy. I almost cried. This movie really shows you that you can do whatever you put your mind to, and it shows you sacrifice for the benefit of others. I would definitely recommend to families with younger children. It is not a waste of time.
My Ratings: [Good / 5]
Nadia, age 14
Positive—I loved this movie soooooo much! I have always enjoyed sitting in my backyard reading than sitting in front of the tube chowing cheetos. I have never agreed with progress and I often played Indians as a little girl, not a princess. I loved the feeling of being free with so much open space for me to do anything. And hey, even now that I’m fourteen, when I feel the rush of wind when I go rollerblading I can still feel that adrenaline. This movie really reflected what we did ruin, and what price we payed for the progress that we’ve made.
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 5]
Andrea, age 14
Movie Critics
…a treat for ages 6 and up… touches on some darker elements of white man’s expansion… highly entertaining story set in a historical context…
Preview Family Movie and TV Review
…A horse is shot during a battle scene where troops invade a Native American camp…
…an exciting animated movie made with genius, but its Romantic worldview takes too many politically correct potshots at Western Civilization…
Dr. Ted Baehr, Movieguide