Toon Talk: Spirit
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Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
Life As A Horse
The so-called rebirth of animation as a film medium in the early 1990s had a profound effect on Jeffrey Katzenberg. After the critical praise and award attention lavished on Disneys Beauty and the Beast, Katzenberg saw gold in them thar toons: the very cartoons which he was at first loathe to oversee upon his arrival at Disney in the mid-1980s could actually net Academy Award attention and industry respect. And, as the phenomenal worldwide box office returns for The Lion King would later prove, a lot of money as well.
And that gold dust clouding his eyes would not soon be diminished, with Disneys Pocahontas being the first, shall we say, victim of his newly re-invigorated ethic/ethics. What was at first a more straightforward animated adventure tale (complete with the requisite talking animals), Pocahontas was soon transformed into serious cinema (all the more likely to attract Oscar attention and adult-skewing reviews), a meditation on racism and conservationism that some ultimately deemed to ponderous and even dull.
When Katzenberg left Disney and co-founded DreamWorks SKG, he carried his lofty aspirations along with him. The first traditionally animated film under his new reign, The Prince of Egypt, like Pocahontas before it, also nearly collapsed under its own self-importance. Even the other-wise bottom-feeding Shrek had an unappealing smugness to its proceedings, confounded even further with the films appalling win as the first Oscared animated feature.
And so this tradition continues with DreamWorks latest animated release, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. As pretentious as its title, the film is literally slathered in its own ostensible greatness. A presumption, need I add, that it hardly fulfills. Nope, Jeffrey, no need to dust off your mantle for this one
Set in the dawn of the old West, Spirit tells this oft-told story from a different point of view: through the eyes of the horse. And not just any horse, this is the king of horses (or something like that ) who has a lot of well, you know, spirit. And unlike Bambi or Simba before him, we a treated to him actually born ... Before we get too far into Mutual of Omahas Wild Kingdom territory, Spirit grows up to the tune of a Bryan Adams ballad. Failing to outgrow his youthful spunkiness, his untamed nature soon finds him trotting right into getting himself captured by none other then the U.S. Calvary, where he crosses paths with a bull-headed colonel (voiced by Babes James Cromwell) hell-bent on breaking this bronco.
After tossing off all of the seemingly endless number of troops who try to mount him (in a musical montage set to another Adams ditty none-to-subtly titled Get Off My Back), Spirit escapes with a fellow prisoner, an Indian warrior named Little Creek (Daniel Studi). (Note the ham-fistedly obvious parallels of oppression, as if saying see how badly the horses were treated, almost as bad as the Indians were!)