red tulips | copyright Jill J. Jensen



Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

From DreamWorks Animation, the Shrek studio
Released: 2002; available on DVD


You don't have to be a kid to enjoy animated films...especially these days, when computers are used to generate amazingly "real" graphics. But even if the characters are stylized, computer-based animators grow increasingly sophisticated in rendering natural movement, which is what gives a character its life-like quality. And that means it's easier to get caught up in the story on the screen, which is what all good movies want us to do.

Walt Disney set the standard for animated feature films a long time ago. Most of us have seen a Disney animated feature — anything from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Fantasia to The Lion King and Cars. But with the advent of computers and spectacular animation software (which continues to be improved), other film studios — and even some computer companies with no filmmaking background — jumped into the animated feature film fray. As a result, audiences have many excellent animated features to appreciate.

Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron is just one example of the new animated feature films. It comes from the Spielberg spin-off DreamWorks Animation, home to Shrek, Antz, Chicken Run, and The Prince of Egypt. Other animation winners you've probably seen are the Toy Story trilogy, A Bug's Life, and Monsters, Inc., from Pixar Studios, a Steve Jobs/Apple Computer project that collaborated with Disney on 2003's blockbuster Finding Nemo. (For a look at a spectacular film featuring Japanese animation, try Miyazaki's Spirited Away, a Disney release that won the Oscar in 2002.) Not only are such films shown to growing audiences in movie theaters, they're bound for release on DVD with "bonus features" you and your kids will love.

The movie Spirit is the "action-packed quest" of a young wild mustang, who struggles "against impossible odds to regain his freedom and save his homeland." We watch as the young horse and his 'tribe' roam through beautiful panoramic wilderness in the American West, and we see him make friends with a young Lakota brave. But there are no talking animals in this film. It's the amazing animation that reveals character, brings us into the animals' world, and bridges the gap between animal and human. As Spirit is captured by US Cavalry soldiers intent on breaking him for military service, we watch him outwit and outlast a relentless squadron of soldiers. And he falls for a beautiful paint mare named Rain. As with all good animated films and fairy tales, we come away with a deeper message — about what it takes to be a hero who's true to oneself.

The Spirit DVD includes some outstanding bonus features. The "Make-A-Movie Studio" gives you access to some of the backgrounds, characters, music, and sound effects from the film so you can edit your own version. Even when everybody's now a YouTube star, this is a good place to let the kids start their movie-making career. There's an "animator" learn-to-draw-Spirit lesson, a slew of interactive games and activities, a collection of storyboards and songs from the film, and a "Making of..." feature that shows how hand-drawn 2-D animation and 3-D computer-generated animation were integrated.


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