I’ll be honest I felt sad while watching today’s Dreamworks film- Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. It’s not because it is a particularly sad film; although, there are some sad sequences. It’s actually my 2nd favorite Dreamworks film and a severely underrated animated film. The reason I was sad is because it painted so clearly what we have lost in mainstream animation and will probably never get back again.
In many ways Spirit reminds me of an indie animated film like The Red Turtle last year. The stunning 2D animation let’s nature tell it’s own story without any tropes of current animation. There is no real villain. No cooky sidekick. No comic relief of any kind. It’s Black Beauty set in the old west- except even better in my opinion. Aside from narration, the characters don’t even talk to each other! There is no way such a project would be greenlit today- especially by Dreamworks and that makes me sad (need proof of that look at the terrible spin-off to Spirit on Netflix that has just aired. It’s the polar opposite of this film and its existence makes me very upset).
I mean just look at this animation! How stunning can you get? Even from Pixar I can’t think of the last time I saw such gorgeous animation from a mainstream studio. It tells so much of the story through those backgrounds and world building. We are immersed in the open wilderness and the Old West from the very beginning and it is breathtaking.
As far as the story goes, for Spirit it is pretty simple. Like Black Beauty, it is the story of a horse named Spirit. We hear a voice-over narration from Matt Damon (a more Old West voice might have been better like a Sam Eliot or someone like that but it works). We then see Spirit get separated from his family, taken by a Custer-like General who thinks he can tame the free spirit out of this horse. Oh how wrong he is! In a lesser movie he would be the villain but he really isn’t here. He’s just a general trying to tame a horse. That’s a different way of looking at the world than Spirit does but not evil.
Spirit then meets a Lakota Native named Little Creek and while he is no more successful in taming Spirit they understand and respect each other better. I really liked the chemistry the 2 had with each other. It was palatable even though it was a horse and a man.
There are other events that happen with the railroad and a female named Rain that all work and are very compelling. Whatever is going on with Spirit in the film it never gets maudlin or preachy. It is bold storytelling at its best. Some don’t care for the Bryan Adams music but I like it. They could have picked something with more of a country vibe but I think it works and the songs are nice.
When I think of The Boss Baby and how devoid of creativity that was and then think of Spirit and how ambitious and beautiful it is, it makes me sad. We have lost something in our desire to sell tickets that I don’t know if we will ever get back again. I hope so but I certainly don’t see it coming back in beautiful 2D anytime soon. It’s really quite sad.
At least we still have Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron to watch and remember the days when Dreamworks animation tried to make art not just money.
And can we please have this on bluray please!!!
Overall Grade- A+