Let your dreams run wild.
From the studio that brought you the award winning Shrek comes a new movie about having the courage to follow your dreams, even if you poop in a field and scratch yourself with your teeth. In the summer of 2002, DreamWorks Entertainment released the animated Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Unfortunately, the film was a major disappointment, eclipsed by films like Disney's Lilo & Stitch. Now available on DVD, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron makes its way to viewers on DVD in both full frame and widescreen editions.
Facts of the Case
Spirit (played convincingly by ink and paint) is a young mustang horse who leads his herd in the way of eating, sleeping, and galloping. Things are great for Spirit, who spends his days whinnying and giving almost humanistic looks to the camera and his comrades. When Spirit is captured by a battalion of soldiers, Spirit's…err, spirit is almost broken as their hard-line colonel (voiced by James Cromwell, Babe, The Sum Of All Fears) attempts to make him an army horse. While tied to a post in the soldiers' camp, Spirit comes across a young Lakota Indian boy who helps Spirit break free. However, freedom doesn't come without a price, and for Spirit that price is being corralled in the young Lakota's tribe. But Spirit once again finds freedom and, with the help of his new Indian buddy, finds the courage to stand up to the colonel and save his homeland!
For those of you who hate talking animals—a la, anything made by Disney—you're just gonna love Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Not a one of these horses talk. None. There are no squirrels or falcons dishing out advice to other characters. No yammering fish or scallops. Not even a sarcastic orangutan. Zip. It's enough to make one's eyes well up with salty tears.
However, what Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron makes up for in silence it somewhat loses in enjoyment. This is not to say that the film is a total loss or disappointment; it has some amazingly beautiful qualities. The mix of CGI and hand-drawn images is seamless and fluid. There are some picturesque moments in the film that sport Spirit running through the forest or a lake that look as grand as anything the camera could capture in a live action motion picture. Of this I won't argue—Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is an eye-pooping wonder (though not, I attest, as awe-inspiring as Toy Story or Shrek). I really, really enjoyed watching this movie.
But, watching and being engaged are two different things. The story of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is to say the least simplistic; viewers are treated to watching the horse attempt to gain his freedom over and over and over again. First it's from the soldiers. Then the Indian boy. Then the soldiers again. And so on, and so on. Frankly, I found this all to be a bit tedious and redundant. How many times can you watch a horse gallop through a field or around a canyon bend before your eyelids begin to droop? Many of these scenes are punctuated by rock star Bryan Adams' melodramatic songs. While they aren't overly annoying, they add little to the film except to comment on if Spirit is happy, sad, or angry. I guess it was too much to ask to put "Summer of '69" over the end credits, huh? The other main flub on the part of the filmmakers is Matt Damon's voice over; aside of a few key facts, the film didn't really require any steady vocal narrative.
Luckily, the film clocks in at around 82 minutes. By the time you're patience is up, so is the movie. I realize that I am not the intended target audience for the film. I actually enjoyed Reign Of Fire, so there's no accounting for taste. Parents may actually enjoy this film as much, or more so, than the children. Those who enjoy stories by Louis L'amour or Jack London will really get a kick out of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. For the rest of you cynics, stick with Shrek. And I don't know if I should feel dirty saying that or not.
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is presented in two versions: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 full frame. The version I received for review was, alas, the full frame version. This is a fine looking picture that sports solid colors and dark black levels. I noticed no major defects, save for a small amount of softness in the image once in a while, most likely the effect of the pan and scan version. If I were you, I'd seek out the widescreen version of this film, which I am sure looks far superior to the full frame version.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in both English and French. Not surprisingly, this sound mix is excellent with the rock songs all bombarding the speakers and surround sounds enveloping the viewer the whole way through. All aspects of the mix are free and clear of any distortion or hiss. Not much to complain about on this disc—overall both the video and audio portions of the DVD are top notch. Also included on this disc are Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks in English and French, as well as English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
DreamWorks has once again loaded one of their animation efforts with a batch of extra features. Here is a rundown of what's on the disc:
Commentary Track by Filmmakers Mireille Soria, Kelly Asbury, and Lorna Cook: All three of these participants seem to be earnest, genuinely nice folks who have a fair amount to say about the making of the film. However, though there's a lot of information doled out on this track, overall it's a bland track that won't entice kids to listen. For hardcore fans only.
Learn to Draw Spirit with James Baxter: This is a pretty self-explanatory featurette that shows folks how to draw just like a real life DreamWorks animator (yeah, right). Kids may get a kick out of it—otherwise, parents and adults can skip it.
The Animation of Spirit: A featurette that focuses on the making of the film with interviews by various crew members and artists, including über-producer/DreamWorks co-founder Jeffery Katzenberg. This is a short little feature that is fluffy and insubstantial. It includes some info on the film, though not enough to make a dent in one's knowledge of the production.
The Music of Spirit: This was probably the best feature on the disc. Included on this featurette are interviews with director Lorena Cook, singer Bryan Adams, composer Hans Zimmer, Katzenberg, and many others. I'm a big fan of film music and scoring, so this ended up being a fascinating little piece on what makes musicians tick. For Bryan Adams fans, this is an absolute must see (it even includes some concert footage of Adams singing).
Storyboards: There are four separate storyboard sequence available here, each with optional commentary. Each sequence features music, sound effects and dialogue over the hand drawn images.
Production Notes and Bios: Just what it sounds like—some text information on the making of the film, plus ten bios on various cast, crew, and musical members from the film.
DVD-ROM Content: A few things are included here, the most prominent being a game that allows you to be the director of the film (my PC wouldn't allow this to work, so you'll have to check it out for yourself).
Finally, there is an extended trailer for various DreamWorks animated films.
Kids'll love it, so it's pretty much critic-proof. This is a cute little story that is void of any sex, swearing, and almost all violence (a few guns, but nothing horrific). DreamWorks work on this disc is great except for that fact that I had to watch it in full frame! Uggh! Otherwise, tykes alike will have a ball.
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is free to run wild through the forests and the trees…
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track by Filmmakers Mireille Soria, Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook
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