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.
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 desired results.
Not 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
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.
For 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.
(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 defeat.
(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 with it.
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.
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 amazing journeys...
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