Media FX Review of
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
by Joe Tracy, publisher of Digital Media FX Magazine
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is an amazing animated
journey that allows the animation and music to help tell
a solid story without talking animals. No doubt, Spirit
is one of the best animated movies ever put out by DreamWorks
and one of the best movies in theaters this year.
Stallion of the Cimarron is the story of a mustang
stallion's journey to remain free against all odds. It
is a dramatic and romantic journey well scripted by John
Fusco, who in college won the prestigious Nissan FOCUS
Award twice for his screenwriting abilities. The
movie is directed by Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook.
marketing for Spirit doesn't do the movie justice
as it's hard to define what the movie is to audiences.
The reason for this is because of the challenging decision
DreamWorks made to keep the movie "realistic"
by not having the horses talk. No doubt, DreamWorks faced
the same dilemma that Disney did when Disney released
Dinosaur with talking beasts. Can audiences relate
to animated characters that convey emotions, situations,
and actions through animation versus verbal dialogue?
In the case of Spirit, the answer is a resounding
"yes". DreamWorks dared to break the formula,
making for a beautiful animated movie that must depend
on the strength of animation and its story to achieve
only do the horses not talk in Spirit, but there
are also no fancy animated "sidekicks" like
most animated movies contain. DreamWorks put the focus
on a dramatic and romantic story and as a result created
a journey that doesn't seem "forced". Instead,
the movie flows with a well told story and well developed
romance that results in an inspirational excursion for
the viewer that will leave many people wanting to watch
it again and again.
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron follows the adventures
of a wild and rambunctious mustang stallion, named Spirit,
as he journeys through the untamed American frontier.
Encountering man for the first time, Spirit defies being
broken while learning what humans he can trust and which
are out only to break him for their own means. During
the journey, Spirit develops a romantic relationship with
a paint mare named Rain, where both provide each other
with some valuable new insights into the Old West.
Nearly everything about Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
is great. From the animation, story telling, and score
to the character development and songs, Spirit
provides a solid movie-going experience where the audience
is pulled into the story, almost forgetting they are watching
an animated movie.
returns to movie-making roots where the focus is the story.
Many movies today (live action and animated) lack this
vision, trying to tell stories with "one liners"
and "visual effects". Spirit defies the
"animated formula," creating a very risky voyage
that sails to new heights. The question is whether audiences
can fully appreciate this move. If the reaction at the
screening I attended is any indication, audiences will
fully embrace Spirit for its ability to tell a
properly developed story and romance without resorting
to "proven techniques".
background score by Hans Zimmer is absolutely incredible.
It reminds me of why Hans Zimmer is my favorite composer
of all time. Because the horses don't talk in Spirit,
the music, animation, and "natural" emotions/sounds
from the animals must tell the story. Zimmer's score really
captures this and runs free. As soon as I left the press
screening of Spirit, I went right next door to
a CD store and purchased the soundtrack,
which has received quite a bit of play time since.
the most part, the songs in Spirit are also well
written and produced. There's no doubt that one or two
of these songs will end up as "Best Original Song"
Academy Award nominations next year. Most of the songs
(which play in the background) are by Bryan Adams (with
song scoring by Hans Zimmer) and effectively help move
the story along, which is important when working with
creatures that don't talk.
"villain" (a Cavalry Colonel) in Spirit
is well developed in how he interacts with Spirit throughout
the movie. And in the end, the Colonel does something
that is a reminder of how high ranking officials of old
still had "honor" even in the midst of apparent
script (aided by the story artists) is virtually flawless.
He has mastered the ability to weave side elements (like
an eagle) to help convey important aspects of the story.
Equally impressive is the way the romance between Spirit
and Rain is developed. Many movies like Star Wars:
Attack of the Clones and The Lion King fail
at properly developing a romance. Fusco allows the romance
in Spirit to play out over time and fall into place
(versus being "thrown" at you). This makes you
care more about the characters and situations the characters
face. I tend to believe that the reason Spirit's
story works so well is because DreamWorks allowed one
quality person to work and refine the script (with advice
and guidance from others like the story artists and directors,
of course) versus having 5-10 screenwriters like many
movies these days.
Normally in reviews, I break down the movie into "The
Great," "The Average," and "The Bad."
But in the case of Spirit, there is nothing "average"
or "bad" about it. The movie breaks new ground
by creating its own formula that focuses on an interesting
journey where you care about the characters. The animation
is also impressive. Back when DreamWorks first started,
I toured the animation department where in-depth "color"
and "emotion" charts lined the walls. A lot
of thought goes into things that general audiences will
never notice or appreciate. I saw the "color"
and "emotion" charts in full execution with
Spirit along with a well-scripted story to go along
sincerely feel that Spirit is the best animated
movie produced or distributed by DreamWorks to date. It
is a journey worth multiple viewings. Some may find the
movie "boring" because it isn't a comedy like
Shrek or Ice Age, but those who appreciate
good story telling will fully appreciate Spirit.
Media FX Magazine gives Spirit a perfect 10 rating
on a scale of 1 to 10 (Beauty and the Beast is
the only other animated movie to get this high of a rating
from Digital Media FX). Kudos to all the cast, crew, artists,
and animators who brought Spirit to life and revived
faith in traditional animation as a continued means for
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