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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 24, 2002

Rousing 'Spirit' puts Trigger, Silver and Flicka to shame

By Marshall Fine
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News


A wild horse must protect his pack and free himself from soldiers in this animated story of the Old West. Great for young audiences, without insulting the intelligence of their parents. Featuring the voices of Matt Damon and James Cromwell. Directed by Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook. DreamWorks Pictures, 82 minutes.

Just when it seems that computer animation has all but displaced traditional hand-drawn cartoons, "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" rears its gorgeous head.

Not that "Spirit" is totally traditional. In creating this story of a mustang in the Old West, directors Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook blend hand-made art with computer-generated 3-D images into a beautiful film that has the look of an oil-painted nature documentary.

Although horses are the central characters, the animals don't talk (though the title character's thoughts occasionally are embodied by voice-over narration by Matt Damon). That doesn't mean they don't communicate. With whinnies, facial expressions and body language, even the youngest viewers will understand them.

The title character is a wild horse in the vast expanses of the Old West. Leader of his pack, he takes the horses on long, excitingly animated runs and protects the colts from the occasionally marauding puma.

One night he smells something unfamiliar: man, in the form of soldiers doing advance scouting for the railroad. To protect his pack, Spirit goes off to check out the intruders, walking right into their camp while they're sleeping to get a closer look (despite warning glances and snorts from the soldiers' bridled and tethered mounts).

He is captured and taken back to the soldiers' fort where the cavalry colonel (James Cromwell) decrees that he be saddle-broken. Spirit, however, is too strong-willed and wily for his would-be master. With the aid of a captive Indian brave, he escapes.

Before the film is over, he'll have found his one true love, been recaptured, witnessed an Indian massacre and single-handedly done his best to stall the encroaching railroad. Here's a horse who's a true action hero, one who'd put Trigger, Silver and Flicka to shame.

Stunningly animated, "Spirit" is the first film of the summer truly for families with young children. It has enough thrills and comedy to compel first-time moviegoers, without the darkness of "Spider-Man" or "Attack of the Clones." Older children will enjoy the slapstick, if they give the film a chance, though the whole thing is on the sweet-and-simple side.

"Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" is so beautifully rendered that parents won't mind the unlikely adventure story. If anything, they'll applaud a movie that fosters excitement, laughs and good feelings, while aimed at the oft-neglected post-toddler segment of the movie-going audience.

Rated G.