A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
The animals do not speak in "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron," and I think that's important to the film's success. It elevates the story from a children's fantasy to one wider audiences can enjoy, because although the stallion's adventures are admittedly pumped-up melodrama, the hero is nevertheless a horse and not a human with four legs. There is a whole level of cuteness that the movie avoids, and a kind of narrative strength it gains in the process.
The latest animated release from DreamWorks tells the story of Spirit, a wild mustang stallion, who runs free on the great Western plains before he ventures into the domain of man and is captured by U.S. Cavalry troops. They think they can tame him. They are wrong, although the gruff-voiced colonel (voice of James Cromwell) makes the stallion into a personal obsession.
Spirit does not want to be broken, shod or inducted into the Army, and his salvation comes through Little Creek (voice of Daniel Studi), an Indian brave who helps him escape and rides him to freedom. The pursuit by the cavalry is one of several sequences in the film where animation frees chase scenes to run wild, as Spirit and his would-be captors careen down canyons and through towering rock walls, dock under obstacles and end up in a river.
Watching the film, I was reminded of Jack London's classic novel White Fang, so unfairly categorized as a children's story even though the book (and the excellent 1991 film) used the dog as a character in a parable for adults. White Fang and Spirit represent hold-outs against the taming of the frontier; invaders want to possess them, but they do not see themselves as property.