It is time for Action Movie Friday, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!
Title: Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron
MPAA Rating: G
Genre: animated, adventure, family, action
Starring: Matt Damon, James Cromwell, Daniel Studi, Chopper Bernet,
Director: Kelly Asbury, Lorna Cook
Writer: John Fusco, Michael Lucker
Budget: $80 Million
Box Office: $106 Million
Okay, no wonder this movie did so poorly in theatres if that was the trailer. Seriously, there is a wonderful story here folks, but that trailer is the first minute of the movie and does not show it!
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 69%
When the naïve and curious wild prime stallion of the Cimarron herd investigates a light on the horizon one night, he ends up being captured and dragged into the curious world of the two leggers. All he wants is to be free and to return to his herd far to the west. But the odd conflicts among the two leggers leave him a pawn going from owner to owner and doing things he doesn’t understand. Even as the two leggers plan to invade his homeland, his spirit refuses to be tamed or broken.
Very rarely do storytellers take real world events and tell them from the eyes of the animals that are affected by the humans entering their territory and changing it to suit humans instead of the animals that live there. A lot of times, when storytellers do tell stories from the viewpoints off animals, it is often horses. Horses have been the companions of humans for thousands of years. Horses and humans are both social animals that form groups and loving bonds. But in the eyes of humans, horses are property and their treatment depends greatly on their owners. Black Beauty wasn’t written as a fictional novel, but as a way to create awareness for the poor treatment of horses during that time period. (The fact it because a successful fictional novel beloved by children was a happy accident. It was written for adults.)
Horses are wild animals. You can raise a horse from a foal and it may still be temperamental, kick, bite and throw you off their back if they don’t like you. They’re dangerous and in order to in some aspects fear humans or even respect them, they have to learn those lessons very young. (Pick up a foal and they’ll never forget it and always think the human can pick them up, even if they’re 2000 lbs and taller than the human.) Horses and pigs are smart. In fact, pigs are just as dangerous if not more than horses because a pig can and will eat a human and they go feral a lot faster than a horse does.
It’s just something to keep in mind while you watch this movie. Because if you understand that horses are wild animals and require extensive (6 years) worth of training from birth to be remotely ‘domesticated’ or ‘tame.’ Then you’re going to watch this movie with a mixture of horror and “yep, they deserve what’s coming to them.”
This movie touches on a lot of issues for a children’s movie about a horse trying to escape captivity. The ‘settling’ of the American West is a pretty controversial and touchy subject and not just for what we did to the Natives, but also what we did do the wild animals that lived there before we arrived and we ended up decimating within decades of “settling.” Wild horses in America regularly take on pumas and alligators in order to protect their herds. To take a prime stallion from the herd (even if they didn’t realize he was a prime stallion) can be the death of the herd. (Though mares can be mean too.)
As an adult watching this movie, I can see both sides of what is going on. I understand Spirit’s horror of not being able to leave and protect his herd and the sacrifice he made to make sure more of his herd wasn’t captured. I also understand where the humans were coming from. They see a horse in the prime of his life not owned by anyone and that he’ll make a good mount. (Though why the cavalry would take him, I don’t know, the rest of their horses were brown.) And given what could have happened to Spirit, the cavalry actually wasn’t that bad of a deal as far as horse lives go. The horse was heart of the cavalry man. Their lives depended on the health of their horses. He would have been at least, in the eyes of the humans, well taken care of at the Fort.
So watching them trying to rough break (and that’s what it was and is called) a wild mustang Stallion in three days rather than taking the time to earn his trust and befriend him feels a bit like justice when Spirit refuses to let any of them stay on his back and uses all the tricks he knows from protecting his herd from pumas and other wild animals to ensure that they at the least will have a difficult time staying on.
Look, there are mustangs that can leap 9 feet into the air, twist about like crazy snake things and will roll on their backs to get rid of a rider. They are in rodeos, not cavalry units.
I was actually worried for a moment that they were going to make Spirit a mine horse for the Gold Rush and thought that would be a bit dark for a children’s movie. The life of a mine horse wasn’t pleasant by any stretch of the imagination. It was also short. And Spirit honestly, was too big for a mine horse. This is me knowing a tad too much about history and enjoying my underground mine tours. I was grateful they went for the railroad horse solution instead. It wasn’t quite as grim, but it also led to a cool scene that shows that yes, some horses are indeed, very smart.
And yes, the Lakota using a mare to try and tame Spirit is a very effective method. Lead a mare past a stallion and he’ll do just about anything. I think the funniest part of the movie for me is when Spirit tries to gain Rain, the mare’s, attention and she brushes him off and all he says is “Mares.” Because that’s all that needs to be said.
Honestly, this movie is very thought provoking and could introduce a lot of interesting topics to talk about with kids. The morals and ethics of settling the American west, the treatment of horses, learning about the railroad and how the cavalry worked at the time. The plight of the American mustang, puma and bison (and wolf, though wolves aren’t in there, wolves were just as decimated as the puma, mustang and bison.) Fair warning, the movie does begin with a mare giving birth. Be prepared for that life lesson. It is a fascinating time in American History and is… one of my favorites at least.
The combination of the story and the music meant I sniffled a lot. Story wise this movie was very effective at least brushing on both sides of the issues of what was happening at the time while still remaining focused on Spirit and Spirit’s journey to get back home. One cookie.
Like I said, making Spirit a railroad horse was a very smart decision. It gave Spirit a conflict and a motive to escape and led to a really exciting scene that made me sit up and take notice and go “oh shit” and then there were explosions and I was happy, happy, happy. Honestly, I knew that this really was a minor setback for the humans of that time period, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but cheer on the horse. One Cookie.
The fights were entertaining and you’re going “wait, this is a movie about horses, how can there be fights?” Look, when someone gets on the back of a horse and the horse throws them off or kicks them or twists about, I call that a fight. They tied him up so he couldn’t move and still tried to bite and kick and use his body weight against the humans. (And they deserved it for being such morons.) Sure, there were a few moments where the Lakota fought against the cavalry. The scene where Spirit escapes the fort is one of the times he is helped by the Lakota. But it’s not quite as entertaining as watching a bunch of humans being played for fools by a horse. One cookie.
Outside of Spirit’s mother, who is really there for the beginning and end of the film and no more, the only female we get to know is Rain, the mare that Little Creek owns and uses to try and tame Spirit. (The only female humans in the story are in the Lakota village as well, which is rather unnerving.) Rain never speaks. We never get her thought’s the way we do Spirit’s. Rain was a good foil for Spirit. She liked where she was, she liked being ‘owned’ and had formed a friendship with Little Creek. They did manage a lot with her facial expressions and how she thought that Spirit was being silly. That being said, she was also mostly just the love interest, presented as a potential conflict for whether or not Spirit ever makes it back to his herd and a heart wrenching moment of uncertainty of whether or not she even survives. In the end, she doesn’t have much agency given that she’s a horse and all. So, I’m left uncertain how to feel about her and due to this uncertainty am taking one bite of the cookie.
The American West is a beautiful and incredibly diverse landscape. Dreamworks represented it well without it being overly “America! Isn’t it so great!” Because what is going on is so sparsely presented in the movie because viewpoint of a horse, it is like you get little photographs of what the west was like without overtly going into stereotypes or presenting some of the grimmer aspects of western life. There wasn’t anything that would pull a child out of the movie and as I said before, enough was presented to start some thought provoking conversations. One cookie.
Overall I found Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron to be an emotional and thought provoking story about horses and the west all the while still being an entertaining action filled movie. Four and three quarter cookies.