“Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” is as simple and innocent a movie as you can imagine. It’s hard to believe it was made in the 21st century, without a trace of irony or self-awareness. This is a movie you can trust.
It is the story of a wild horse whom various people try to tame but who ultimately can live only as a free spirit. It is a cartoon, but the animals do not talk (though we do hear the thoughts of one of them, provided in narration by Matt Damon); neither is there rampant goofiness or improbability. Except for the horses’ unnaturally expressive faces, nearly everything that occurs in the film could have been done with live actors and real animals.
So it’s sort of surprising, then, that it comes off as richly entertaining as it does, and that it holds the interest of the children it’s aimed at. (Due to some scary moments, it may be too intense for very young children.) There are occasional bursts of humor, and more than a few thoroughly exciting action sequences. There are also lessons of love and loyalty, taught simply enough that anyone can understand them: If someone saves your life, you need to save theirs, too.
The horse, who has no name until the end of the film, leads his herd in what eventually would be called the Old West, but which now is mostly unsettled, pre-Civil War territory. He is first captured by a group of American soldiers, and later is befriended by an Indian lad (voice of Daniel Studi). For a good deal of the time, he sets domesticated horses free as much as he can, like an equestrian Harriet Tubman. Then there is danger and peril and romance, and it all turns out OK in the end.
This is a gorgeous-looking film, created in Cinemascope widescreen — unusual for an animated film, as it means having to draw about 40 percent more than for a normal-sized film. The panoramic landscapes are beautiful, the animation is fluid. I could look at this movie all day.
Bryan Adams provides way too many songs on the soundtrack, usually paralleling the action. When the soldiers have captured Spirit and are trying to ride him, there’s a song called “Get off My Back.” One Bryan Adams song in a movie is probably enough; this one has seven.
It is not a classic. The story is blessedly simple, and that may also be what keeps it from taking up permanent residence in our memories. But on a single viewing, it gallops and soars and delights.
B+ (; )