HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
HTS Overall Score:76
“Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” is really a product of its time. From the early 2000 era Bryan Adams songs, to the rough animation style, to the heavy handed message of the film. That doesn’t mean the movie is a bad film, for there’s certainly a lot to like about it. The beautiful landscapes that Spirit treks across, the intense feeling of Hans Zimmer’s score and the classic man vs. beast plotline are all things to enjoy. It really comes down to the growing pains of Dreamworks animation. Back in the 90’s and early 2000 era, Dreamworks was going through some changes. While nowadays they are considered a powerhouse of the animated world and second only to the Mouse House and Pixar, back then they were kind of the red headed stepchild. The animation was right around the time CGI 3D animation was crossing over into hand drawn animation and the blending was a bit rough. Not only that they just didn’t have the writing crew that could create the timeless classics that Disney and Pixar were famous for. I hadn’t seen “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” since I was a LOT younger so I was worried that it wouldn’t hold up as well as I remembered. I was both pleased and mildly disappointed at once. Some of the plot points were fantastic and the seamless blending of music into the story holds up very well. On the other hand some of the things that the animators did to the horses, creative wise, just DOESN’T hold up so well as an older person.
The story revolves around a wild mustang’s life, from his creation to the inevitable capture by humans. Set during the days of the wild wild west, when the wild mustang’s reign over the wild was coming to an end, Spirit (narrated by Matt Damon) becomes the leading stallion of his herd, king over his domain. Being unaccustomed to humans he inadvertently sets himself up for capture when he decides to investigate a mustang wrangling camp. There he’s sold to the U.S. army where he meets the bane of his existence, The “Colonel” (voiced by James Cromwell). The Colonel is a harsh man and does his best to break the wild stallion’s spirit. After days of starvation and misery our hero refuses to let man break him. Taking advantage of a distraction, created by a captured Native American by the name of Little Creek (Daniel Studi), Spirit and Little Creek are able to escape the horse soldier’s camp. The problem with humans, is that even though you get away from one, there’s always another to put a rope around a horses neck. Little Creek is bound and determined to ride Spirit, and while not a taskmaster, like the Colonel, is just another human with a saddle in the eyes of a horse. If it were not for the lovely mare that Little Creek normally rides, Spirit would not get accustomed to humans at all.
Now, while Little Creek and Spirit had forgotten about the Colonel, the Colonel had not forgotten about his escapees. Tracking down the duo his lays waste to the Indian village and nearly kills Little Creeks mare, and Little Creek himself. Getting captured in the process, Spirit is once again put to work as a slave to the humans. Forced into being a horse for the railroad, his spirit nearly broken, he has to gain his sense of pride and family and liberate himself once and for all, with the help of Little Creek.
I had forgotten many of these early Dreamworks filmed and was curious to see how well they compared to modern day Dreamworks animation. Amusingly enough the movie was a lot of fun, even though there is a DISTINCT maturity difference in the Dreamworks of today vs. the Dreamworks of 12-15 years ago. “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” is less a cohesive story with distinct plot points, but rather a tale of a horses life in a certain time period. The story meanders on, spending less time focusing on storylines, but rather the evolution and maturation of the beast and his riders. The film begins with a wild and carefree mustang, without a care in the world. Ignorant of the world around him and his fall from the top. Now when you fall, the old saying says that you pick yourself up again. Here, our beautiful animal has to crawl up from the very bottom, regain his pride and refuse to be broken. Watching the horse learn about the ways of the west, and the ways of man is intriguing, especially since we know the outcome of those vast and wondrous herds of wild ponies.
There are some downsides. The plot tends to be a bit heavy on the “poor horses, evil men” mantra, but this WAS during the days when more engaging animated stories wasn’t on Dreamworks resume. The other thing that really bugged me had to do with the facial expressions given to the horse. The horses aren’t actually speaking horses, but rather Sprit’s point of view is narrated by a human voice. Everything else in the film is conveyed through facial expressions, and whinnies. The only problem is that they tried to give Spirit and the other horse’s human expressions. While it was cute at first, watching a horse try to smile and laugh just ended up being rather creepy, rather than endearing, like they expected it to be conveyed as. Had they stuck to trying to imitate a natural horses’ expression of happiness, terror etc. than it wouldn’t have seemed so offsetting and would have been a bit more impactful in my opinion.
Rated G for General Audiences
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=17298[/img]Most catalog titles, especially much older catalog titles, don’t tend to have a DVD copy to go along with the Blu-ray. Thus A/Bing the video encodes is a lot harder unless you happen to own the old DVD. Thankfully with this combo pack with have the original 2002 DVD (not a remaster) along with the brand new Blu-ray, so I was able to pop in the other disc and switch sources to see how the old DVD holds up to the increased resolution and clarity of Blu-ray.
After watching “Spirit’ I have to admit that Dreamworks did an impressive job of restoring the film. This is DEFINITELY not the old 2002 master, that’s for sure. The colors are a lot brighter and even though the film is not as sumptuous or richly saturated as modern CGI fests, the mix of hand drawn animation, water color backgrounds and CGI intermingled looks surprisingly good. Detail is excellent considering that these early Dreamworks pictures were not nearly as fine-tuned as they could be. The black levels are impressive and only a few times did I see some ringing and Edge Enhancement.
Now you have to be asking. HOW MUCH of an upgrade is the disc? Is it just a little bit? Well, I popped in the old 2002 DVD and recoiled in horror. I had forgotten just how UGLY the old DVD looked on a big screen. Macroblocking all over the place, mushy textures and holy Edge Enhancement Batman! I swore I was watching a mirage, because everything just shimmered with nasty halos. In closing, if you’re expecting this to be a big leap over the DVD you will be WELL pleased. The old DVD was always an eyesore, but even though mildly flawed, the Blu-ray trounces it six ways from Sunday.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=17306[/img]The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track also enjoys a large leap over its 448 kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 brother. The first thing I noticed was the sheer immersion of the music. Bryan Adam’s songs, while dated, certainly light up all 6 channels with vibrant power and adds some serious depth to the sonic track. The ambient noises are certainly no slouch either. Thundering hooves across the Cimarron, the shrill Neighing of a horse and the explosive roar as Buffalo rumble to a watering whole. The vocals, while there aren’t that many besides Matt Damon’s narrating, are locked firmly in the center and sound quite pleasing. The only slightly irritating thing to mix, is the fact that besides Matt Damon’s voice, all the other voices are recorded a slight bit lower. While the Dynamic range is good, it just sounds a little bit weird to hear the discrepancy in the volume levels of the voices. LFE is good, to excellent. The roar of the musical numbers is sublime, with waves of low end sonic bombardment washing across the viewer. Gunshots hold solid oomph, and the thunder of a Mustang herd is impressively weighty. The ONLY real problem is that I felt it could have been just a LIIIITLE better in some scenes. However, that’s really just a mild nitpick and not anything truly major.
• Filmmakers Commentary
• Learn to Draw "Spirit" with James Baxter
• Animating "Spirit"
• The Songs of "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron"
Storyboards - With option commentary
• Spirit's Capture
• The Colonel Rides Spirit
• Train Wreck
• Spirit and Little Creek Jump the Canyon
• International Star Talent
“Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” was one of Dreamworks better pictures from that day and age. There’s a reason why it was considered one of the more memorable ones, amidst a forgettable storm of films like “Sinbad”, “The Road to El Dorado”, and “Chicken Run”. It’s incredibly sweet and the fantastic western settings that Spirit travels through are pure eye candy. The awesome picture and sound upgrade definitely makes this a must buy if you’re already a fan of the movie. For those of you who have never seen it before, just be warned that comparing it to an animated film of this generation might leave some disappointed. Recommended for a watch.
Starring: James Cromwell, Matt Damon, Daniel Studi
Directed by: Kelly Asbury, Lorna Cook
Written by: John Fusco
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 AVC
Audio: English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, French, Flemish, German, Dutch, Castilian, Spanish DD 5.1
Runtime: 83 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: May 13th, 2014
Buy Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Watch It
More about Mike