"Radical Search for Freedom"
What You Need To Know:
SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON, the new animated DreamWorks movie, has a lot of heart, but it is not about the Holy Spirit; rather, it is about the SPIRIT of freedom. An Indian brave named Little Creek frees Spirit, a wild mustang, from cruel treatment at the expense of an Army colonel. Even though Little Creek befriends him, Spirit will not let Little Creek ride on his back. Eventually, the Calvary attacks the Indian village and captures Spirit again. A powerful dramatic ending follows Spirit’s next adventure.
The scripting of SPIRIT is so good that the test audiences have all applauded at several points in the movie and at the end. The music in SPIRIT does a very good job of sustaining the story line, and the animation is wonderful, if stylized. SPIRIT, however, has a Romantic worldview, which inaccurately portrays Western Civilization as mean, cruel and repressive. Spirit, however, does not seek his freedom at the expense of everyone else. In fact, he tries valiantly to help others whom he chooses to help. Children will love this movie, but media-wise families should help their children think through the philosophical, historical problems in SPIRIT
(RoRo, RH, PC, B, C, V) Romantic worldview with some revisionist history, anti-western civilization bias, rebellion against authority, and a radical search for freedom, but mitigated by several moral, redemptive virtues including sacrificing oneself for others; no foul language, but one negative remark invoking Providence with a capital P; mild cartoon action violence includes horse being roped, riders thrown off horse, horses caught in wild river; gunshots, horses wounded, cavalry charges, Indian village attacked, locomotive tumbles down mountainside, mountain lion attacks young foals, mare in childbirth, horse cornered in canyonlands, horse breaks out of fort, blacksmith kicked several times, men get pushed against corral by horse, and so forth; and, nothing else potentially objectionable.
The new DreamWorks movie, SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON, has a lot of heart but it is not about the Holy Spirit; rather, it is about the SPIRIT of freedom, and the desire to return home. The scripting of this movie is so good that the test audiences have all applauded at several points in the movie and at the end. Children will love SPIRIT, but they need to be cautioned about some of the philosophical perspectives in it and the revisionist history.
Employing beautiful 2-D animation with modern CGI 3-D animation, the movie starts with an eagle bringing the audience into the world of the mythical old west. All of the great landscapes of the West are compressed into the mythic landscape, from Yellowstone to the Grand Tetons to Yosemite to the Grand Canyon to the Badlands to Monument Valley to the Prairies and even to the Rocky Mountains. The eagle finally leads the audience to a small herd of mustangs where a mare gives birth to a young foal.
Unlike most animated or cartoon characters, these animals do not talk because producer Jeffrey Katzenberg felt that the talking horses were too much like Mr. Ed. Matt Damon, however, provides a very small amount of narration to describe the thoughts of the foal whose name is Spirit. Otherwise, the story is told in action and song.
Spirit grows up to assume his place as leader of the herd. When he goes to investigate a light and a harmonica in the distance, he is captured by five cowboys. They sell him to the U.S. Calvary who reside in a fort in Monument Valley. The Colonel in charge is tough-as-nails. When the soldiers can’t ride Spirit, the Colonel ties Spirit to a post for three days without food and water.
As Spirit contemplates his fate, a Lakota Indian brave, Little Creek, is brought into the fort and tied to a post near the horse. Together the brave and Spirit escape, leading the Calvary horses away at the same time. Little Creek takes Spirit to his Indian village where Spirit falls in love with an Indian horse, Rain.
Even though Little Creek befriends him, Spirit will not let Little Creek ride on his back – and there are some funny moments as Little Creek tries to do just that. Eventually, the Calvary attacks the village, and Rain is shot. She falls into the turbulent river, and Spirit goes after her. When they plunge over a giant waterfall, he cradles her as she appears to die. There, on the river bank, the Calvary captures him again and puts him on a train to help build the railroad. A powerful dramatic ending follows his next adventure.
Jeffrey Katzenberg, the producer of SPIRIT and one of the partners at DreamWorks, is a master of storytelling. He saved Walt Disney animation after they had suffered years of misguided projects such as THE BLACK CAULDRON by producing wonderful movies like THE LITTLE MERMAID, THE LION KING and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Thus, he put Disney back in the forefront of animation. When he left Disney, he produced the first non-Disney animated movie to make more than $100 million at the box office, THE PRINCE OF EGYPT. This year, he received an Academy Award for last year’s blockbuster, SHREK.
Always ready to explore new territory, Mr. Katzenberg decided that he wanted to do a movie about the Old West featuring horses. Horses have not been the principal characters or heroes in animated movies because they are so hard to animate because: their backs are rigid, preventing freedom of characterization; their mouths are too low, often making them look comical; and, their eyes are too wide apart, so that looking at them from the front, one cannot see their eyes.
In producing SPIRIT, Jeffrey has succeeded in producing the archetypal horse movie. The horses work well as characters, and the animation is beautiful. Furthermore, Mr. Katzenberg decided not to have talking horses, which meant that the action and the music, plus a little bit of narration, has to carry the story. Essentially, this is a silent film with some narration. Thanks to his genius and dedication, the movie works so well that the audience applauds at the end.
The problem, however, for people of the Christian faith is that the movie has a Romantic worldview. Jean Jacques Rousseau formulated Romantic philosophy to depose Christian theology. He conceived of the noble savage. In contrast to the fallen, barbaric, sinful man who needs the salvation only available through the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross, Rousseau believed that civilization corrupted the noble savage. In contrast to Rousseau’s portrait of mankind, anybody who has had children knows that they do not have to be taught to lie, hit and steal, as all children do such sinful acts in spite of their cuteness and adorability. Rousseau may not have realized this as he had several children out of wedlock, but always left them on the doorstep of others. His life was a mess and he sought his own freedom at the expense of others.
To a large degree, this is the philosophical perspective of the film. The animals and the Indians are noble. The representatives of Western Civilization are mean, cruel and repressive. Spirit, however, does not seek his freedom at the expense of everyone else. In fact, he tries valiantly to help some others whom he chooses to help.
The second caution in this vein is the revisionist history. The noble savage did not exist. Although the Indians lacked the firepower of the weapons of the western settlers, they were known for their ferocious raping, pillaging and plundering. Furthermore, they killed in excess the animals which sustained them. For instance, they drove herds of buffalo off the cliffs only to consume a few. Both groups, the settler and the Indian, had their failings inherent in the nature of man, and both needed the love, redemption and forgiveness of God, which only comes from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
It is interesting that man is called to be a good steward of the world around him and that God provided man with animals to assist him in doing just that. The very difficulty that animators have with animating stiff backed horses makes them perfect for riding, so it seems a little incongruous that being ridden is seen as such an onerous burden in the movie.
The music in SPIRIT does a very good job of sustaining the story line, the animation is wonderful, if stylized, and SPIRIT should be a great success at the box office. Media-wise families, however, should help their children think through some of the problems with the philosophy and theology of the movie.