Dirs: Kelly Asbury, Lorna Cook. US. 2002. 84mins.
There's no denying the passion and expertise that went into Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron, the third traditionally animated movie from DreamWorks SKG. But this perfunctory and serious story about a wild stallion in the untamed American frontier struggling to maintain his freedom in the face of man fails to stir up the elusive magic of Disney's greatest pictures and feels slight and dated in this age of Shrek, Spider-Man and Star Wars. Box office returns have exceeded those scored by DreamWorks' last 2-D picture The Road To El Dorado: the feature took $23.2m on its opening weekend from 3,317 screens. However, long term its takings are unlikely to rival those of DreamWorks first animated feature, The Prince Of Egypt which mustered up some $200m worldwide in 1998/9.
The film is more admirable than exhilarating. The equine hero and his horse friends never speak, they only neigh. We know of their feelings only through the sophisticated animation, brief spurts of voiceover from Matt Damon and a series of songs by Bryan Adams.
While this technique works well, the story lets it down. Tales of the American frontier rarely ignite the screen in today's cinema and Spirit is no exception, stirring feelings of ennui as opposed to the more stimulating abstract worlds of Africa in The Lion King or the under-sea world in The Little Mermaid.
Captured by the white man, Spirit is taken away from the pack of horses of which he is the chief. Soon he friends with a young Lakota brave and falls in love with a beautiful mare named Rain and plays his part in stalling the advance of the railways into the west. But the drama isn't sufficiently compelling to provoke much excitement, despite some stunning scenes blending 2-D and 3-D animation such as the final sabotage of the railway.
The animal designs and movements are striking, and boldly the film omits cute sidekicks or comic caricatures. Ironically in all the earnestness and attempted dignity of the drama, a talking candlestick wouldn't go amiss.
Prod co: DreamWorks
US dist: DreamWorks
Int'l dist: UIP
Prods: Jeffrey Katzenberg, Mireille Sora
Scr: John Fusco
Ed: Nick Fletcher
Prod des: Kathy Altieri
Music: Hans Zimmer, Bryan Adams
Voice over actors: Matt Damon, James Cromwell, Daniel Studi