Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002) from Mick Locke

   You may know that Carlsbad NM has one of the only, and perhaps the nicest, cleanest year-round Drive-In Cinema in the USA (three screens: Fiesta Drive-In, just west off National Parks Hwy 62-180/ S. Canal, south of downtown Carlsbad.  fiestadrivein.com).  Did that sound like a plug?  It was.  Locally we have to offer tourists Carlsbad Caverns for a day, Living Desert Zoo & Gardens for the next morning, and - on the intervening evening open seven nights per week in the summer, four nights during the school year - the Fiesta Drive-In.  Worth the visit.
   For us locals, it's a weekly draw.  So I was ready with the garage sale mountain bike, big-ass rear pannier baskets, radio, back-up radio, beer, lawn chair, bungee cords, and please-don't-hit-me blinker lights to locomote solo to the Fiesta for Sum of All Fears.  But then La Seņora got home in a blue funk, and we decided to trade off action for inspiration and take our five shelties in the SUV to see Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron instead.  My geography's shaky, so I'm not sure where the Cimarron is.  Wife tells me the plains of northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas.  But in this animated movie, it looks like you go through both Arizona's Monument Valley and western Oregon to reach it the Cimarron. 
   During the preliminary cartoon I made a run to the concession stand for popcorn and a chili dog, so I missed the start, which Wife says had great visuals with an eagle as Spirit of Freedom soaring all over the Great American West.  I asked her, "Disney or Spielberg?"  "Spielberg."  Cool, I enjoy sponsoring competition. 
   Spirit is a studly tan mustang in a herd of wild horses, with a Marebabe and apparently two foals.  "That his gal and offspring?" I ask Wife.  "Yeah," she says.  Spirit goes horsing off by his lonesome and comes upon the campsite of US Cavalry soldiers (all white, no Buffalo Soldiers).  They awaken and pursue him.  Spirit charges back and warns his herd, then gets lassoed.
   Back at the fort, they've probably denuded all the forests within 500 miles of Monument Valley, because the walls, buildings, and guard towers are huge, made of superstout timbers.  Must've trucked 'em in from Oregon.  Allocation of space is odd.  Even the horse-breakin' corral is inside the fort.   What are they thinking, Navajos are gonna ambush 'em while they're breaking horses in the daytime?  I guess.
   Cute scenes of a burly Irish blacksmith trying to manicure Spirit's hooves.  Surly stallion keeps getting the best of him.
   An extremely Custer-looking colonel with the voice of James Cromwell takes charge.  Spirit broncs off a half-dozen riders, so Custerclone has the boys tie him up to a post for three days, no food or water.  Enter a kindred spirit, captured Indian, Lakota Brave, who must be very brave indeed to be a Lakota wandering alone in Navajo country.  Soldiers tie him, also, to a post, just outside Spirit's corral.  Spirit notes that this biped looks different than the others - longer hair, bare-chested, noble, sympathetic, and probably eco-friendly.  Lakota Brave issues a wee-hours coyote howl.  Somebody - friendly Navajos or other far-a-field Lakotas - pitches a bowie knife over the wall, landing near but not in the Brave.  Grabs it with his foot.
   It's day three now, so Custerclone comes out in spurs and riding crop, ready to break dispirited Spirit.  By the way, most of the time Spirit is tastefully equine.  But on mercifully rare occasions, the stallion issues a voiceover, the voice being Matt Damon.  Cool gig, no need to diet or shave to pick up the paycheck.  Weakened by hunger and thirst, Spirit can't bronc off Custerclone, and Custerclone makes an inspiring object-lesson speech to the troops.  Then he gets broncked off.  And ticked off to boot, for he pulls his revolver, ready to plug Spirit, but is stopped by - guess who?  That's right, Lakota Brave with the bowie knife.  Together, Brave & Spirit gallop on out of the stockade, followed by stampeding cavalry horses.  Free!  Then captured by Indians, apparently Lakota Brave's compadres. 
   Now a stretch where we see that Native Americans have read up on Monty Roberts and know how to gentle horses.  Also romantic interlude of Spirit with Pinto Mare.  Plenty of horse nudity and affectionate muzzle nudges, but no bump-bump, this is a family flick, folks.  Spirit is weirded out by Pinto Mare's voluntary cohabitation with the bipeds, albeit the longhaired, redskinned, eco-friendly variety. 
   Lakota Brave, after several attempts, realizes that Spirit has too much spirit to ever be ridden by any man,  bluegarbed or buckskinned.  So he sets Spirit free.  Pinto Mare escorts him to the outskirts of teepee village but they're rudely interrupted by a cavalry raid.  Custerclone's aiming his revolver at Lakota Brave, but Pinto Mare charges in to take the bullet.  Those two fall in the roaring whitewater river.  Custerclone is fixin' to plug Lakota Brave when Spirit sideswipes his mount, spoils his aim, then charges along and then into the river, trying to save Pinto Mare.  Terrific whitewater visuals, over the falls go both of them.  Enfeebled, she washes up on the river bank.  Spirit sticks with her.  Cavalry soldiers rope him, leave her for dead or dying.  Lakota Brave comes out of the woods, sees Spirit being led off, says "You saved my life."
   Spirit is led into a railroad boxcar and carted east, into winter weather (perhaps that would therefore be north northeast by north).  Lakota Brave follows on foot.


get real
 Spirit is now a beast of burden, harnessed up with a dozen other horses in chains to pull a big-ass locomotive up a hill with no tracks.  Why they don't lay tracks first and let the locomotive pull itself I'm not sure.  And what good the choo-choo'll do with no tracks to ride on is also a mystery.  Unless the tracks westward are already laid, but the eastern ones no.  And don't they survey these routes in advance to circumvent big-ass hills?
   Anyway, Spirit suddenly realizes that, despite having traintracks through Monument Valley already, the notion of expanding commuter rail to the Pacific Northwest runs counter to the best interests of wild mustangs, so he rebels.  Plays possum, escapes, frees all the other horses, kicks free the locomotive, which now rolls chasing him back down the hill and collides with a fired-up second locomotive, bashes into a warehouse, sets fire to the great northern woods, and almost toasts Spirit whose neckchain gets hung up on a fallen log but is freed by - Lakota Brave, who has quickly tracked up from Arizona and correctly chosen which way at each train junction or perhaps just looked up the earlier train's destination on a table and taken Amtrak. 
   Anyway, they're happily reunited but suddenly fired upon by Custerclone and his boys in hot pursuit.  Very hot pursuit, considering they rode through a forest fire.  Spirit could escape alone himself, but he doubles back to fetch and carry Lakota Brave.  Together they gallop down canyons and up cliffs which begin to resemble - Monument Valley!  In fact, they dead-end atop a butte with one monster leap across a vastly deep gorge between them and freedom.  Solitary option.  Back on up and floor it: there they go, Thelma and Louise, Geronimo! 
   Do they make it?  Is this a Spielberg film?  In case you can't remember that much, the leap is in slo-mo, looking up from below at the horse and rider silhouetted against the overhead sunball, E.T. Redux.  Multiple angles, inspiring music.  So inspiring that, when a cavalry soldier pulls out his rifle to pick off the duo, Custerclone pushes up the rifle barrel and issues a nod of respect to Spirit, who nods likewise in reply.
   When they make it back to the teepee village via Monument Valley and the Oregon woods, Lakota Brave whistles, fully healed Pinto Mare appears, and Lakota Brave nobly sets both equine sweethearts free for life, probably dealing quite a serious blow to the tribal economy, but perhaps that's how the West was lost.
still in theaters
   When Spirit and Pinto Mare finally gallop upon his homeherd with Marebabe and still two young foals, I ask, "What's he gonna tell his missus?  Wife replies, "I was wrong before.  She must be his Mom, and those foals are siblings, I guess."  So it all worked out.
   Four stars for kids, two for adults

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 3/4,

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 6.3/10, Guardian voters 5.9/10.
  • with their dollars: budget $80 million, gross $71 million as I write this.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

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