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23 September 2005

Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)

Matt Damon, James Cromwell, Daniel Studi
Directed by Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2) and Lorna Cook

From Hollywood Video: "During the early days of the American frontier, an untamed stallion embarks on an adventurous journey that begins when he is captured by Union soldiers. He soon befriends an equally stubborn Native American and falls for a fetching mare."

Recently, in part because of the fantastic selection at our local library branch, I've been expanding the girls' repertoire of children's videos to include new features. A lot of my motivation for novelty also has to do with my UTTER and COMPLETE boredom with our current at-home selection of five quality, funny, wonderful, thoroughly over-watched films: Babe, Finding Nemo, the Complete Beatrix Potter Collection, Blue's Big Musical Movie, and Bambi.

Now if you wish to use a kids' movie as a proper bribe, reward, or emergency babysitting device, you have to acquaint the children with the film first. They will not watch something they cannot understand or do not recall. It's taken three years to get Juliette to enjoy the five we own and to understand that watching them is a treat, so we watched Spirit together to properly introduce them to this new story.

Matt Damon was the voice of Spirit's internal dialogue, Cromwell played the evil-turned-almost-repentant Union Army colonel, and Daniel Studi (son of the uber-Cherokee actor Wes Studi) played the Lakota boy who befriends Spirit as they escape myriad man-made dangers. The "horse escapes train" scene was quite exciting, and the girls loved every time the horses did happy dances. However, the film suffered from an extreme over-indulgence in a painful combination of Hans Zimmer and Bryan Adams. I thought it was just a single theme, played at the outset, but the entire film was peppered by NINE gravel-voiced, sappily orchestrated tracks. Shudder.

With all of the subtlety of any child's movie, Spirit tackled issues of industrialization, environmentalism, race relations on the frontier, and animal rights, but it felt too blunt even considering its intended audience. Whereas Babe examined tolerance, individuality, prejudice, and friendship with a more gentle approach (and by gentle I mean that even adults can find the film appealing without gagging on its over-stated message), Spirit had no such food for grown-up thought.

While a cute little film, it failed the ultimate test: can I watch this countless times with the girls, have them discuss and play-act it endlessly, and withstand the songs getting stuck in my head without going mad? No. We'll probably watch this one another time or two before returning it to the library. This is my prerogative while my toddlers have no real say in things... for now.

Blogger Shephard said...

...I felt the same way when watching this... it is from a time when Dreamworks animation was trying to find their way, and floundering.
I don't know how old your girls are, but have you tried "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Kiki's Delivery Service?"
They're really sweet films, and appealing to children (and even adults) of all ages. Unlike American films, they take their time telling their stories, so this may lose some American children. Depends on the child. :o) (they're both by master animation director Hayao Miyazaki).

Blogger carrie_lofty said...

Thx for the recs. I'll have to see if our library system has them (we have a huge int'l population here, so it's quite possible).


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