The year was 2002 and 3D animation was the big thing, so old-school cartoons had their days numbered. It was of little or no use that companies took pains to design dreamy characters, idyllic landscapes and sweeping stories: the industry was changing and with it the public. It is under these circumstances that in May of that same year the story of “Spirit: The Indomitable Steed” was shown in movie theaters.
This underrated gem was released on this day, May 24, but in 2002, and was directed by the late Kelly Asbury (“Shrek 2”) and Lorna Cook (“All Dogs Go to Heaven”).
The rest of the creative team left no loose ends in the cinematography and the film was a work of quality, with Mireille Soria (“Madagascar”) and Jeffrey Katzenberg (“Shark Scare”) as producers, while the script was carried out by John Fusco (“Crossroads”).
The music of “Spirit: The Indomitable Steed” was under the responsibility of Hans Zimmer himself, an icon of the childhood of many after leading the soundtrack of “The Lion King”. Regarding the original cast, it featured the voices of Matt Damon, and James Cromwell, among other talents.
As for the main song, it was left to singer Bryan Adams. But surely you will remember more the Spanish version performed by Erick Rubín: «I will not surrender». Was there anyone who could hear it without then singing it?
“Spirit: The Indomitable Steed” grossed more than $122 million at the box office, surpassing its initial budget of $80 million.
As we’ve said, times were tough for traditional animation. Studies migrated from 2D to 3D. At first the change was gradual. Producers like Disney alternated between both categories during the year (2D for summer releases, 3D for winter releases).
Several films released at that time under the same format suffered economic losses of several million dollars. Others barely managed to recover a little more of the investment. Examples? “The Emperor’s Follies” (2000), “Treasure Planet” (2002) or “Cowboy Cows” (2004). Although the causes of these losses varied, there was a common factor: the competition was strong.
the tough competition
Before the ’90s: Disney pretty much had a monopoly on comics (at least on the big screen). Yes there were good successful movies outside the company, but they did not represent a threat. Then everything changed. Animation studios multiplied, and with them, movies.
The result? Children’s audiences could now choose what to see, unlike in the past where they saw the “twenty-one” film that was on the billboard. All in all, “Spirit: The Indomitable Steed” was praised by critics and a box office receipt that at least recovered the budget.
However, many have considered that it has not been given the merit it deserves (there are many videos on the internet that describe it as an underrated film). It’s as if our heroic steed is the “Cinderella” of DreamWorks (especially when compared to other films from the same house, such as “Shrek”). But like the princess, she has stood the test of time, appearing on a respectable roll of honor. It is not the sun, but it is a satellite.
You also have to see things in their context. For the time of transition that he lived in where so many films have been forgotten, shouldn’t we be grateful that he at least has a decent position? And there is no one to say that it was a bad plot.
As far as his recognitions are concerned, “Spirit: The Indomitable Steed” was nominated for Best Animated Film at the Oscar Awards, but ended up being defeated by the Japanese grandmaster Hayao Miyazaki thanks to his anime “Spirited Away”.
The tape was also nominated at the Golden Globes gala for Best Song, although the award in this category ended up being taken by “Gangs of New York”.
It was later nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the Critics Choice Awards, but again suffered defeat at the hands of “Spirited Away.”
On the other hand, the proposal had better luck at the “Annie Awards” (which are like the Oscars of animation), since it obtained 2 nominations and crowned in the line: Best character design.
As mentioned above, most of the reviews for “Spirit” were overwhelmingly positive, given the film’s message of perseverance.
“It’s more raw and direct than most stories we see in animation: a fable that I suspect young viewers will quite identify with”, “Its big action scenes sometimes make you forget you’re even watching animation », «An animated fairy tale made with simple and elegant conviction», «A welcome family film that exudes noble values and offers first-class animation», said specialists from different media such as Chicago Sun-Times, The Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly and Chicago Tribune.
Although the story is animated, the animals were not humanized, therefore they do not speak. Matt Damon’s voice only conveys Spirit’s thoughts (same as “Garfield”). Therefore, it does not take much dialogue to understand the equine’s odyssey, especially when he is separated from his herd or when his love interest is injured.
The voice of Little Arroyo, the Lacota Indian, was performed by an Indian in real life. His name is Daniel Studi and he is the son of fellow actor Wes Studi (winner of an honorary Oscar in 2019).
On the other hand, the real horse that inspired the hero of this film was a 3-year-old Kiger stallion named Donner, the Sensacine page reported.
Likewise, the aforementioned page indicates that the sounds that were recorded for the cartoon were taken from real horses, at no time were the vocalizations of humans used to recreate the sounds of the animals.
The film’s opening scene (dubbed Homeland Pan by the directors) took over nine months to design, recording over 700 background elements, with an average of 30 layers of artwork for each frame.
What is it about?
Beyond the technical sheet, this is a story that talks about freedom. Not the utopian and selfish one, the one based on doing what we want, but the one that allows us to make decisions and take actions that benefit the community. The freedom to sacrifice our freedom for a noble cause. The freedom to be happy, yes. But also the freedom not to be in favor of our integrity.
And this is the freedom that is taken away from Spirit, a wild horse of the mustang breed, who lived peacefully with his herd until one day he is captured by the army to be tamed. He resists with all his might because he was not born to be tamed. But the colonel of the fort does not think the same, so he deprives him of bread and water for three days. Sure, hunger humiliates you. So our equine friend briefly submits.
Since the idea is not to fill this page with “spoilers”, we will leave the story up to here. But you can watch it on the Netflix platform. What we can tell you is that history shows a swing between freedom and captivity.
The film became a franchise with several series that followed: “Spirit: Riding Free”, “Spirit: Riding Free – Riding Academy”, “Spirit: Riding Free – Horse Tales”. It also has a second film entitled “Spirit: the indomitable” released in 2021 with the participation of Isabela Merced (“Dora and the lost city”), Mckeena Grace (“An exceptional gift”), Julian Moore (“Nine months”) and Jake Gyllenhaal (“Spider-Man: Far From Home”).
You can see almost all of them on Netflix streaming. But don’t forget to watch the original movie first. Not that of a pet horse, but that of the “Spirit that could not be tamed.”