Directed by: Kelly Asbury, Lorna Cook
Starring: Matt Damon, James Cromwell, Daniel Studi
Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron gallops across the screen in a mesmerizing dreamscape of unforgettable wildness and beauty. It proves, as if any more proof were needed in this new Golden Age of animation, that animation is more than equal to live-action film in its ability to create cinematic magic. Ostensibly an epic tale of the Old West told from the point of view of the horses, Stallion is really a rallying cry for the freedom of all creatures -- animal and human. First-time directors Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook have created a magnificent technical and artistic achievement, seamlessly combining traditional and computerized animation. It's also the first animated feature shot in Cinemascope -- an expensive though appropriate choice for a story whose soul lies in panoramas. The brutality of the Old West knew no species limits, so be prepared for some harsh realities. Stallion is not Disney-cute talking equines and their chatty butterfly friends. Tiny kids in the audience probably won't giggle more than once. Unlike animals in most animated films, Stallion's horses don't talk in human words; they communicate in their own complex and exquisite body language and through their wide range of whinnies, neighs and murmurs. The animation art and the sound effects are so convincing that after a few moments you are completely caught up in the world perspective of the horses and it seems the most natural, most right thing you've done in ages. Stallion starts off with an absolutely breathtaking sequence of an eagle flying over the diverse landscape of western America: purple snow-capped mountains, plains of high grass and herds of buffalo, desert mesas, geysers and hot springs, and thick forests. We meet Spirit as a frisky, curious colt, the newest member in a herd of wild Kiger mustangs that trace themselves back to the breeds brought over by the Spanish conquistadors. Despite his youthful mishaps, Spirit grows into a splendid stallion and leader of the herd. (The voice of Matt Damon sparingly verbalizes Spirit's inner thoughts and the songs of pop star Bryan Adams create emotional punctuation points.) One horrible day, the carefree young wind-racer feels the vicious yank of a rope around his neck and his life changes forever, as he is dragged to a desolate fort in the Monument Valley desert. Cavalry Colonel (voice of James Cromwell Babe), determined to tame the wild stallion into an Army mount, denies him food and water to break his will. Also a prisoner at the fort is a young Lakota, Little Creek (Daniel Studi, TV's Crazy Horse). The two prisoners manage a defiant escape and Little Creek brings Spirit to his home village, where he meets Rain, a coy pinto mare who steals his heart. The two are off nuzzling in the forest when the Cavalry descends on the village and destroys it. A waterfall and a raging river prevent the horses from escaping, and Spirit is once again in captivity. Forced into a cattle car, eerily reminiscent of Holocaust footage, Spirit is turned into a workhorse on the railroad, leading the "chain gang" of horses pulling the engine and its despised threat of pollution over the mountaintop. Can Spirit prevent the destruction of his beloved land? Will he see his herd again? Will he ever run free? Oh, you gotta see this movie.