Western Animation / Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron


"They say the history of the West was written from the saddle of a horse, but it's never been told from the heart of one... not 'till now."

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is a 2002 film by DreamWorks Animation; one of their last traditionally animated features before they made the switch to CGI.

The film is about a feral horse who is born on the American prairie and has encounters — both positive and negative — with the humans who also live there. Spirit is captured and taken away from his herd by American soldiers, resisting their attempts to tame him. At the camp he befriends a First Nations Lakota man named Little Creek, though their relationship is far from affectionate. Together they escape from the soldiers' camp, but the spread of the white man continues to plague them throughout the story.

Besides the main story of a horse returning to his herd, the film is really about the domestication of the American wilderness. The Colonel, the main antagonist of the film, represents Western civilization invading the North American landscape and changing the land to suit its needs. Although Spirit ostensibly gets a happy ending, history really makes it a foregone conclusion...

Compare Disney's Dinosaur, which has had many of the same criticisms leveled against it and was originally going to have the same format — a narrator, and lots of music, but no talking animals.

An animated series, Spirit: Riding Free, was announced to begin on Netflix in 2017.

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Accidental Kiss: An interspecies example occurs early in the movie when a drunken wrangler is being mouth-examined by Spirit in his sleep, and mistakes him for a girl in his sleep. Spirit's about as squicked as anyone watching the scene.
  • Action Girl: Rain, in as much as a horse can be. She does ride into battle with Little Creek, after all.
  • Affectionate Gesture to the Head: Esperanza has a tendency to fiddle with her son's forelock. In a rather heartwarming callback, she playfully musses it when he's born and straightens it when he returns home.
  • All Animals Are Dogs: During the segment showing Spirit as a colt, he's shown lapping water up with his tongue like a dog. Unlike dogs, horses have thick tongues which are not as capable of scooping up water; while they may sometimes be seen licking at water (for instance, shallow water in the bottom of a bucket), horses most often dip their muzzles partly into the water to drink.
  • All There in the Script: Spirit's mother's name is Esperanza. The colonel's horse is called Granite.
  • All There in the Manual: There was a book called Esperanza that was a prequel based around Spirit's parents. Spirit's dad is a black stallion named Strider. There are also books based on Rain's family history; her mother is named Sierra and her grandmother was a pampered riding horse named Bonita.
  • Alternate Animal Affection: The horses mostly nuzzle each other and cross necks to show affection. Little Creek gets a "hug" off Spirit in this fashion near the end.
  • Amplified Animal Aptitude: Well, naturally. None of the human characters are aware of this. The directors even lampshade this in the commentary for the train sequence. In terms of amplified animal athleticism, Spirit leaps about fifty feet across a canyon, and without his front legs snapping like twigs upon landing, though he did wind up crashing.
  • Amusing Injuries: One sequence involves Murphy, the man responsible for making new horses look presentable as horses of the U.S. Army, gaining a series of injuries as he works on Spirit. Spirit becomes increasingly tied up, and keeps finding new ways to hurt him. The other horses actually laugh at him at the end.
  • Animals Lack Attributes: Averted. The male horses do have genitalia, it's just drawn very subtly.
  • Anti-Villain: The Colonel is stern, somewhat obsessive, and completely unfit to train horses, but not really evil. He even has the sense of honor and respect to let Spirit and Little Creek go once they've definitively beaten him.
  • Artistic License Animal Care: The Colonel's decision to keep Spirit tied for three days without food or water — in the baking desert heat, no less — is obviously not supposed to be pleasant for him. However, it can't be stressed enough how awful a decision this really was. Spirit could have very easily suffered organ damage or colic.
  • Artistic License Biology:
    • The animators gave the horses eyebrows to express their emotions better.
    • The Colonel's legs should have broke when Spirit slammed them into the fence.
  • Award Bait Song: The movie arguably has several of these, but there are two that fit best - "Here I Am", which is both the opening song as well as playing over the credits, and "I Will Always Return", which plays as the finale of the movie. And to top it off, BOTH are sung by Bryan Adams.
  • Bloodless Carnage: There's no blood visible when Rain is shot, though they do show a subtle bullet wound.
  • Bookends: The movie begins with a shot of a beautiful blue sky filled with clouds (including one shaped remarkably like a galloping horse) before panning down across the landscape and eventually coming to Spirit's racing herd. It ends, after he returns home to lead the herd, with a pan back up to that same sky and cloud.
  • A Boy and His X: Subverted in that Spirit never submits to becoming "Little Creek's" horse. However, Little Creek and Rain could be considered this.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Spirit refers to humans as "two-leggeds".
  • Call Back: When Spirit first wakes up with the Lakota, Little Creek leaves him a pile of apples. When he first wakes up after being saved by Little Creek at the end of the movie, the first thing he sees is a pile of apples.
  • Cartoony Eyes: Although the horses are otherwise anatomically sound, the human-like eyebrows get distracting after a while in the same manner as Aladar's beak-lips. Also, generally speaking, to have that visibly white scleras, the horses would all have to carry certain spotting genetics which they don't show any sign of.
  • Clean Pretty Childbirth: We see Esperanza having contractions, followed by baby Spirit coming into view clean and neat.
  • Colonel Badass: The nameless Colonel is a variation; the film's focus on horses denies him any opportunity to show this trope in a more conventional fight, but he is a formidable enemy.
  • Comes Great Responsibility: Spirit drops the trope word-for-word at the beginning; he's leader of the herd, and that's awesome, but it also means having to look out for everyone, which he does to the utmost of his ability.
  • Conspicuous CGI: Shows up quite a bit, actually — the film was intended to be an about even blend of CGI and traditional animation. Sometimes it meshes well (Just try to spot, in the scene where Spirit's on a hill overlooking the herd, the moments in which he changes from a CGI render to a drawing and back to a CGI render) and sometimes it... doesn't. The locomotive in particular is pretty glaring. Even the early shot of the running herd is noticeable if you have a sharp eye and can tell hand-painted Cel Shading from the computer-automated kind.
  • Cool Horse: The story is all about one.
  • Curse Cut Short: When Spirit accidentally wakes two men, there are two right after another.
    Mook 1: What the—!
    Mook 2: Son of a—!"
  • Deadpan Snarker: Spirit is one sometimes.
  • Determinator: "Spirit Who Could Not Be Broken", indeed.
  • Disappeared Dad: Spirit's father is never seen.
  • Disney Death: The horse Rain. The character was originally going to die for good, but the creators decided to go for the happy ending.
  • Disneyesque
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Rain does a VERY good job of this for Spirit. She literally sweeps him off his feet!
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: All the horses the Cavalry owns are dark brown. They hate their riders, long to be free, and will run away from them at any chance given.
  • A Dog Named "Dog": The main character is usually called "Mustang" until he gets properly named at the end.
  • Double Meaning: The song "Get Off My Back" is meant both figuratively and literally in Spirit's case.
  • Evil Overlooker: It's pretty bizarre to see the Colonel's face being used like this on some DVD covers, especially since he looks so damn benevolent.
  • Friend to All Children: Spirit, to both horse and human. The only human he's completely gentle with is a little toddler girl who he lets pet him.
  • The Gadfly: Rain is notably pretty cheeky and playful, both with Little Creek and with Spirit.
  • Held Gaze: Spirit and Rain have a deep gaze into each other's eyes under a tree. Spirit also does this with Little Creek about three times.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Spirit, after Rain's supposed demise and his third capture. It takes him hallucinating about his herd and reminding him of what he is fighting for to knock him out of it.
  • A Hero Is Born: The first scene after the opening narration is Spirit's mother in the final stages of labour.
  • Historical-Domain Character: The Colonel is (an unnamed) George Armstrong Custer.
  • Horse Jump: Make a guess.
  • Inevitable Waterfall: When Spirit and Rain are swept down the river in their escape from the Colonel.
  • Interspecies Friendship: The title character appears to be friends with an unnamed bald eagle and he later befriends a human.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: When the Colonel rides Spirit in his attempt to break him, he proves too difficult to buck off and hangs on until Spirit gives up. As the Colonel then gives a gloating speech about how any horse can be broken, Spirits thinks "sometimes a horse has got to do what a horse has got to do", then immediately shocks the Colonel with a surprise buck, throwing him off.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Little Creek removes the feather from Rain, symbolizing his ownership with her, wanting her to go with Spirit. At first distraught, Rain agrees to go with Spirit.
  • Just Train Wrong: The Northern Pacific Railroad never built track in Nebraska, or connected with Utah; that was the Union Pacific. In fact, by the time the Northern Pacific broke ground, the Union Pacific, and the first transcontinental railroad, had been completed.
  • Keet: The young Spirit.
  • Know When To Fold Them: Just after Spirit and Little Creek jump over the gorge, one of the Union soldiers aims to shoot them. But the Colonel makes him put down his gun, and wordlessly lets the horse and Indian go.
  • Lucky Translation: In the Norwegian dub, Spirit monologuing "Mares..." after Rain "scolds" him becomes a Double Entendre, as the Norwegian word for "mare" is also a rude name for women, basically the equivalent of "bitch". Spirit in the Norwegian dub thus monologues "Mare!"
  • Meaningful Name: Murphy. If it can go wrong while he works with the horses...
  • A Minor Kidroduction: The opening scene starts with the birth of Spirit with moments of his childhood until he is seen as an adult.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: We can only assume that the Bald Eagle living in the middle of a dry upland prairie is only there due to DreamWorks' patriotic fervor.
  • Moody Mount: Spirit, justified as he was taken from the wild and treated harshly.
  • Musicalis Interruptus:
    • "You Can't Take Me" plays as Spirit resists being taken to the regiment, then gets interrupted by a gunshot. It gets to finish near the end of the movie.
    • Later, around the film's midpoint, Spirit thinks he can finally go back to his homeland, with a proud section of "Run Free" blaring — until he gets yanked back when the mare he's tied to stops abruptly at the edge of the Lakota village.
  • Nameless Narrative: The main character isn't actually named until the end of the film.
  • Noble Bird of Prey: The eagle.
  • Object Tracking Shot: The opening scene follows a Bald Eagle.
  • Oh, Crap!: When Spirit tosses the cougar to the ground and rears over it, the look of terror on its face is obvious.
  • 1-Dimensional Thinking: Averted. Spirit has to escape a train falling down a hill behind him, but it's impossible for him to run to either side as they're covered with large piles of timber the entire way down.
  • The Oner: The oh-so-pretty opening tracking shot. It was one of the first sequences started during production and one of the last to be finished.
  • Pan Up To The Sky Ending: After Spirit is reunited with his herd, complete with a cloud shaped like a galloping horse. See also Bookends above.
  • Pet the Dog: When the Colonel has witnessed Spirit's jump for freedom, he stops one of his soldiers from shooting him and signals to Spirit that he's free to go.
  • Playing Possum: Spirit plays dead when he realizes that building the railroad would go straight through his homeland.
  • Pounds Are Animal Prisons: Played with —- as far as the wild horse is concerned, yes, stables are pony prison, but the horses at the regiment are seen to be treated more or less reasonably; Spirit is only maltreated insofar as he misbehaves. The animals ridden by the natives are treated quite well, as are the horses used by the railroad; the man leading Spirit into and off the train is shown as reassuring and gentle with him.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Bryan Adams wrote the songs.
  • Rewritten Pop Version: In the film proper, "I Will Always Return" is about family and homeland, and its refrain at the end powers the triumphant conclusion. The credits version? A love song.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Spirit as a young colt.
  • Rule of Three: Spirit gets caught three times before finally running free with Rain. The first time is to the Colonial soldiers, the second time is with Little Creek and the Lakota, and the third and final time is with the railroaders.
  • Scenery Porn: The shots of the wilderness.
  • Shoo the Dog: Invoked briefly with Spirit and Little Creek. Though it comes up again towards the end, this time with Little Creek and his own mare, Rain, the pair part ways too peacefully to actually count as a shoo-ing.
  • Shown Their Work: Like the animators themselves point out: horses are one of the most difficult things to draw, and not only did they have to draw horses all day long for a few years, they had to animate them as well. The result is nothing short of stunning.
  • Silence Is Golden: There are no talking animals in this film aside from a few narration parts from Matt Damon's character. The film had to have the animators pantomime conversations with the horses with their body language and the expression on their faces. The horses just neigh throughout the film. There also are not that many conversation scenes with the human characters.
  • Stock Footage: The final scene with Spirit and Rain galloping uphill and then watching the herd below together is actually the same scene from the beginning when Spirit does all of it alone, only with Rain pasted in.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Spirit picks up a touch of it where Rain and Little Creek are concerned, though not enough to stop him from taking off when Little Creek first sets him free.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: Fortunately, this mostly happens in the lyrics to the songs and the narration... but there are a lot of songs and a lot of narration...
  • Title Drop: In a sense. "Take care of her... Spirit Who Could Not Be Broken."
  • Tongue on the Flagpole: As a colt, Spirit gets his tongue stuck to a large icicle. He then snaps it off and carries it away with him.
  • Trolling: Spirit at one point lets Little Creek believe he'll let him on his back, only to suddenly grin and throw him off when he's nearly on.
  • Tsundere
    • Rain, Spirit's Love Interest. Summed up hilariously by Spirit to anyone who knows anything about horses: "Mares."
    • Spirit too, to a degree.
    "Okay, I admit it, she was charming...in a stubborn, irritating kind of way."
  • True Companions: Implied of the herd.
  • Unreliable Narrator: This story is truly told through the perspective of a wild horse, and it shows in how he views humans.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Little Creek.
  • Worthy Opponent: How the Colonel views Spirit by the end of the film, as evidenced by his respectful nod to him. It can be argued that Spirit views him the same way, seeing as he returns the nod.

Alternative Title(s): Spirit Stallion Of The Cimarron