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Digital Media FX Review of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
by Joe Tracy, publisher of Digital Media FX Magazine

Spirit - Perfect Rating

DreamWorks 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.

Spirit: 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.

The 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 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.


The Story

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.


The Great

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.

Spirit 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".

The 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.

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.

The "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 defeat.

Fusco's 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.


Conclusion
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.

I 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.

Digital 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 amazing journeys...

Spirit - Perfect Rating


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