review for Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron on AllMovie

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)
by Josh Ralske review

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is a technically innovative film, blending hand-drawn and computer animation with a seamlessness never approached before, but most viewers probably won't know the difference. They're more likely to notice how otherwise uninspired the film seems. The problems start with the filmmakers' decision not to have the animals talk. This was a wise choice, in some respects. As co-director Kelly Asbury has noted, they realized early on that "the minute you have a horse speak, it's a comedy." Caroline Thompson's 1994 live-action film Black Beauty successfully told the classic story from a (non-speaking) horse's point of view. And Jean-Jacques Annaud's 1988 film The Bear also effectively used a real animal in the lead. Matt Damon's voiceover, from the point-of-view of the horse, is used sparsely and effectively. But the animators for Spirit decided to use the unrealistic nature of the medium to make the horses more expressive. As they gesture, smile, shake their heads, raise eyebrows, and neigh, whinny, and grunt at each other (at times sounding more like Chewbacca than horses) in a recognizably human (and decidedly un-horse-like) way, one begins to wish they'd just spit it out. Despite some pleasant Old West scenery early on, the film picks up considerable steam once Spirit comes into contact with humans, and the plot kicks in. This leads to a few exciting, well-animated action sequences, particularly one involving Spirit and a team of horses being forced to drag a train engine up a hill. The film doesn't approach the heights of modern animation, and its childish simplicity, as exemplified by the insipid Bryan Adams songs on the soundtrack, may bore adults. But it is likely to keep younger children entertained.