Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (US - BD RA)
Jonathan takes a technical look at the Blu-ray of the 2002 animated movie...
Join Spirit, a wild young mustang, as he sets out on an action-packed quest against impossible odds to regain his freedom and save his homeland. In his courageous and thrilling journey across the majestic wilderness of the American frontier, Spirit forms a remarkable friendship with a young Lakota brave, outwits a relentless squadron of soldiers, and falls for a beautiful paint mare named Rain. (From the Dreamworks synopsis)
This is one of those cases where seeing an animated movie in high defintion almost hurts it. Spirit had very stunning animation when it came out in 2002, but seeing it in a crystal clear 1080p transfer really shows some of its age. The use of CGI in various scenes stands out a lot more than it did when I last saw this movie on a VHS tape in my Spanish class. Such a complaint is actually a testament to how clean and crisp the video presentation here is. More often than not the image is absolutely flawless. Colors are especially more appealing than standard definition can pull off. You can see the full spectrum of green gradients in the grassy hills and the amount of sheer detail in the background art of the canyon scenes. The horses and characters are more traditionally drawn and look excellent here. Like all good handdrawn animation on Blu-ray, you can actually make out the pencil markings that outline every character. The handdrawn segments hold up incredibly well, but the more digital cel shaded sequences feel very aged. They look cleaner without the handdrawn touch, but they lack personality and clearly belong from another era of CGI.
If you check out the review guide for DVDActive you will see that our audio ratings are based on the whole aural experience, and not just the technical merits of the audio track. If I'm being honest, my aural experience was a poor one thanks to the painfully earnest voice of Bryan Adams blasting in my ears, reassuring me that this is indeed a fierce and passionate horse I am watching. I shuddered when Spirit was throwing soldiers off of his back to the lyrics... "Get Off of My Back". On the other side of the coin we have the original score from Hans Zimmer which is much more rousing and pleasant to listen to. My opinion of the movie would be much higher if it was a silent picture with just a full Hans Zimmer score and no narration or Bryan Adams. In truth, both sides of the soundtrack sound objectively nice on this Dolby Digital True HD 5.1 track. When the score kicks in it is appropriately loud and lively and hasn't aged a day. Matt Damon's narration floats over the rest of the audio and is easy to understand. The rest of the sound effects in the movie are secondary to the music, but are still put to good use. I could hear the ruffle of horses coming from virtually every direction during the stampede segments. All in all, this is a very solid track that just isn't in line with my personal tastes in the music department, but fans should be happy with what they get.
For the extras on the Blu-ray release, we have standard definition ports from the DVD release that is also included in this set. Things kick off with a Filmmaker's Commentary, which is subtitled in every language that the movie is subtitled in as well. The track features producer Mireille Soria and co-directors Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook. This is a sincere commentary track where they speak constantly about the decisions that go into various scenes, often complimenting Bryan Adams and the animator's work. I was amused to hear that their editor used "Another One Bites the Dust" as a temporary track for the sequence where Spirit is throwing soldiers off his back, and then the filmmakers comment that Bryan Adams managed to top it. They mention Indiana Jones as inspiration. If you're a fan there is plenty of insight here, but I found it to be a bit humorless and many of the filmmakers opinions on their own work disagreeable. Next up is Learn to Draw Spirit with James Baxter (SD, 13:48), which is a nice little featurette with one of the lead animators on the film. It has a very kid friendly presentation.
Animating Spirit (SD, 07:02) is a feaurette dedicated to the animation in the film, and there is interview footage with the filmmakers discussing how they wanted to go for a "tradigital" approach, mixing new and old styles of animation to create something new. The Songs of Spirit (HD, 09:41) is a look at the music featured in the movie. There is some good interview with Hans Zimmer discussing his process, and we get to see him at work. His score is the highlight of the flick for me, so this was a worthwhile special feature. Then it transitions over to Bryan Adams, which is my least favorite thing about the movie and it goes downhill from there. Co-director Lorna Cook tells how the lyrics to "Get Off of My Back" sum up Spirit's feelings toward people trying to ride him, in case that wasn't explicit enough. Next up is four Storyboards (SD, 16:51) that show the early drawings used to map out sequences in the movie. There is optional commentary for them, and they can be viewed separately or all at once. Last of all is International Star Talent (SD, 02:31) which is just a brief, fluffy EPK style look at the various performers who portrayed Spirit's singing voice for other countries.
I remember liking Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron when I watched it in my high school Spanish class on a VHS tape. Revisiting it confirms that all movies are good when you get to watch them instead of learning. Hans Zimmer's sweeping score and the animation are worthy of recognition, but the overall presentation of the story, complete with Matt Damon voice over and Bryan Adams songs, was unbearably mawkish this time around. Fans have a great Blu-ray release to look forward to. Extras are ported over from the DVD release (which is also included in this set), but the audio and visual presentation is top notch.
* Note: The below images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 13th May 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby True HD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Castilian Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1 Dutch, Dolby Digital 5.1 Flemish, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 German, Dolby Digital 5.1 Latin American Spanish
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Castilian Spanish, Dutch, Flemish, French, German, Latin American Spanish
Extras: Filmmaker's Commentary, Learn to Draw Spirit with James Baxter, Animating Spirit, The Song of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Storyboards, International Star Talent
Easter Egg: No
Director: Kelly Asbury, Lorna Cook
Cast: Matt Damon, James Cromwell, Daniel Studi
Genre: Adventure, Animation and Comedy
Length: 83 minutes
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