The horse in question we come to know as Spirit, leader of the Cimmaron herd and a victim of his own curiosity. An unnecessary trip down to a cowboy campground earns Spirit a pair of lassos around his neck for his troubles, and the rough riders turn the reluctant buck over to the Army for labor.
The Army's immediate reaction is to starve, dehydrate, and mentally deconstruct the horse. They must've mistaken him for a cadet. Apparently the cavalry's leader (voice of James Cromwell) has but one play in his guidebook, for he also orders that a captured Indian be tied to a post with Spirit and detained with no food or water for three days. Bad idea. These two caged rats join forces and escape, galloping across the prairie with the cavalry troops eating their dust.
It's Spirit's co-captor, Little Creek (voice of Daniel Studi), who recognizes the free spirit yearning to break free in this stubborn animal. Bestowing the name Spirit on his new friend, Creek teaches the stallion the value of compromise and the strength of love. Not with a man, but with another horse. Bestiality is merely hinted at here, but never broached.
Too bad Spirit's journey couldn't wrap up with these tidy morals. Instead, government laborers continue to pillage our natural resources in order to build the transcontinental railroad, and the cavalry finally catches up with the two fugitives. The troops plow through Little Creek's village and leave Spirit's new girl for dead, which means it's payback time, Schwarzenegger style. If you think I'm joking, watch Spirit dodge a fireball, disarm a platoon of soldiers and outrun a toppling locomotive. Ah-nold wishes he could move that quickly.
Prior to this nonsense, Spirit weaves an emotional tale. Directors Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook utilize a lyrical style of storytelling, employing music and sparse narration by Matt Damon to drive the plot. Damon's quips often reiterate what the visuals already show, but it's still a welcome plot device over a smart-ass crab or a singing cricket. I just wish Spirit listened to cooler music than retro-sounding Bryan Adams.
Spirit just doesn't know when to call it quits and ride off into the sunset. The film traps its hero in a repetitive cycle of playing either the great emancipator or the amazing escape artist, constantly breaking free of traps and pausing only to set other shackled horses free. Let's just hope DreamWorks stops horsing around with sappy family fare of this nature and ponies up that promised Shrek sequel before we all saddle up to another, more enjoyable franchise.
Spirit's DVD features quite a few horsey extras, from a "how to draw Spirit" tutorial to various kiddie fun features (click "DWK").
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Screenwriter: John Fusco