Sunday 25 September 2011

The Corner - Week 1 - Heather Reviews Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

A belated review, by A113’s standards, but a review nonetheless, of DreamWorks’ Spirit…

If you were to ask a person to list their favourite animated films, chances are, this would not be listed. Why? Because, in my opinion, Spirit is massively undervalued; it’s funny, it’s quirky, and it’s the only animated film to be seen through a horse’s eyes…

Spirit (voiced by Matt Damon) is a wild, young Kiger mustang, curious by name and nature, and the determined leader of a magnificent herd of wild horses who roam the wilderness of the American Frontier. When Spirit spots something awry in hi herd’s territory, he inspects it, and is thrown tail-first into an adventure. Befriending a young Lakota, falling for a beautiful pinto mare (also known as a paint mare) and outwitting an unyielding squadron of soldiers does nothing to discourage Spirit as he fights to return to his herd.

It was Senior Supervising Animator James Baxter (The Lion King, The Prince of Egypt, Beauty and the Beast) who oversaw the animation of Spirit, himself, and though the horses don’t physically speak, Spirit’s thoughts are conveyed to the audience through the mouthpiece of Matt Damon; songs by renowned singer-songwriter Bryan Adams play a prominent part also.

Little Creek, the Lakota boy, was played by Native American actor, Daniel Studi and It was Senior Supervising Animator Pres Romanillos (Mulan, Pocahontas) who oversaw the animation of this compassionate Lakota, who is captured by the cavalry, which is where he meets Spirit, who has also been caught.

Rain, fiercely loyal to Little Creek, her Lakota owner, is voiced by nobody, which could be seen as a weakness in the film…but instead it seems to add intrigue and mystery to the beautiful mare who bewitches Spirit. The animation of her character was overseen by Senior Supervising Animator William Salazar (The Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado).

Enter: The Colonel-stern, determined, strong-willed… The Colonel quickly becomes Spirit’s most relentless adversary on his fight for freedom. He is voiced by James Cromwell (Babe, L.A Confidential), who perfects the short temper of his character, and holds just the right amount of dignity to make this ‘bad guy’ as ‘bad’ as he needs to be, yet still holding on to the last shred of honour. Supervising Animator Fabio Lignini (The Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado) oversaw the Colonel’s animation.

One special character, neither horse nor human, is the landscape. It is the landscape of the American West itself, in the 1800s when the landscape was untamed, just like the mustangs who roamed it. To capture this beauty in this film, there were no books or films to compare enough to the actual thing, so a team of eight (including story supervisor Ronnie del Carmen, who, more recently, was the story supervisor on Pixar's Up) took a four-day tour of America’s most treasured national parks and incredible landscapes. The journey must have been successful, for in the many sweeping scenes in Spirit, the landscape is phenomenal and has been encapsulated perfectly, from the way the eagle soars through it, to the way the ‘camera’ pans across its brown and green floors.

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron shows us some stunning animation, breath-taking in places, and has a storyline easy to be swept up by. Yet, if there was one gripe… for some it could be too musical. I suppose, this depends on preference. In my opinion, the music adds to the emotion of the film: sorrow in the heart-breaking scenes; laughter in the funny scenes.

For example, in one scene Spirit is shut up in a wide stall on a train. The music behind this particular scene is called “Sound the Bugle” (by Bryan Adams), and fits perfectly with the morose mood. The song has its ups and downs and keeps up with the animation like clockwork when Spirit’s moods heighten-when he believes he sees his family-and falls again. This musical aspect truly is a matter of opinion.

All in all… 8/10, for me; a memorable film with character, and one I’d recommend.

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