Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

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Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
Spirit Stallion of the Cimarron poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by
Screenplay byJohn Fusco
Produced by
StarringMatt Damon
James Cromwell
Edited by
Music byHans Zimmer
Distributed by
Release date
  • May 24, 2002 (2002-05-24)
Running time
83 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$80 million[3]
Box office$122.6 million[3]

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (also known as Spirit) is a 2002 American animated Western film produced by DreamWorks Animation and distributed by DreamWorks Pictures. The film is directed by Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook (in their feature directional debuts) from a screenplay by John Fusco.[4] The film follows Spirit, a Kiger Mustang stallion (voiced by Matt Damon through inner dialogue), who is captured during the American Indian Wars by the United States Cavalry; he is freed by a Native American man named Little Creek who attempts to lead him back into the Lakota village. In contrast to the way animals are portrayed in an anthropomorphic style in other animated features, Spirit and his fellow horses communicate with each other through non-linguistic sounds and body language like real horses.

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron was released in theaters on May 24, 2002, and earned $122 million on an $80 million budget. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.[5] The film also launched a media franchise using computer animation, with a Netflix spin-off television series Spirit Riding Free premiering on May 5, 2017, followed by a spin-off of the original film, titled Spirit Untamed, released on June 4, 2021.


In the 19th-century American West, a young Kiger Mustang colt, Spirit, is born to a herd of wild horses. Spirit grows into a stallion and assumes the leadership of the herd. One night, upon following a strange light near his herd, Spirit finds horses kept in chains and their wranglers sleeping around a campfire. They awake and, seeing him as a magnificent specimen, seize him, taking him to a US cavalry fort.

In captivity, Spirit encounters "The Colonel", who orders the mustang tamed; however, Spirit fends off all attempts to tame him. To weaken Spirit, the Colonel orders him tied to a post for three days without food or water. Meanwhile, a Lakota Native American named Little Creek is also brought into the fort and held captive. Spirit is later supposedly tamed by the Colonel, who speaks his idea of how any wild horse can be tamed. Spirit gets a second wind and finally throws him off. Humiliated, the Colonel attempts to shoot him before Little Creek (who frees himself from his bonds with a knife) saves Spirit from being shot as they escape from the post. Little Creek's mare, Rain, meets them along with other natives, who promptly recapture Spirit.

After returning to the Lakota village, Little Creek attempts to tame Spirit with kindness, but Spirit is unwilling. Little Creek ties Spirit and Rain together, hoping she can discipline him. Spirit falls in love with Rain in the process. Meanwhile, a cavalry regiment led by the Colonel attacks the village. During the battle, the Colonel attempts to shoot Little Creek, but Spirit tackles the Colonel and his horse, deflecting the shot. Rain is instead shot and thrown into a river. Spirit runs after Rain but they both plummet over a waterfall. Spirit rescues Rain and stays by her side until the cavalry recaptures him. Little Creek then tends to Rain and vows to free Spirit.

Spirit is forced to work on the transcontinental railroad, where he is pulling a steam locomotive. Sensing that the track will infringe on his homeland, Spirit breaks free from the sledge and breaks the chains of other horses. They escape, and the locomotive falls off its wooden sledge and slams into another locomotive, causing an explosion that sets the forest ablaze. Spirit is trapped when the chain around his neck snags on a fallen tree. Little Creek intervenes, and together they jump safely into a river.

The next morning, the Colonel and his cavalry find Spirit and Little Creek and a chase ensues through the Grand Canyon, where they are trapped by a gorge. Taking a risk, Spirit makes a leap of faith across the gorge. Spirit's bold move amazes the Colonel; he humbly accepts defeat, and leaves them be. Little Creek returns to the Lakota village with Spirit and finds Rain nursed back to health. Little Creek names the stallion the "Spirit-Who-Could-Not-Be-Broken". Spirit and Rain are then set loose by Little Creek, bidding them farewell. They depart to Spirit's homeland, where they eventually integrate into Spirit's herd.

A bald eagle (seen at various points throughout the story) reappears and soars into the horse-shaped clouds.




Writer John Fusco, best known for his work in the Western and Native American genres (such as the films Young Guns and Young Guns II), was hired by DreamWorks Animation to create an original screenplay based on an idea by Jeffrey Katzenberg.[6] Fusco began by writing and submitting a novel to the studio and then adapted his own work into screenplay format. He remained on the project as the main writer over the course of four years, working closely with Katzenberg, the directors, and artists.[7]

Animation and design[edit]

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron was made over the course of four years using a conscious blend of traditional hand-drawn animation and computer animation.[7] James Baxter said that the animation was the most difficult piece of production he worked on for a movie: "I literally spent the first few weeks with my door shut, telling everyone, 'Go away; I've got to concentrate.' It was quite daunting because when I first started to draw horses, I suddenly realized how little I knew." The team at DreamWorks, under his guidance, used a horse named "Donner" as the model for Spirit and brought the horse to the animation studio in Glendale, California for the animators to study.[7] Sound designer Tim Chau was dispatched to stables outside Los Angeles to record the sounds of real horses; the final product features real hoof beats and horse vocals that were used to express their vocalizations in the film.[8] None of the animal characters in the film speak English beyond occasional reflective narration from the protagonist mustang, voiced by Matt Damon in the film.[9] Many of the animators who worked on Spirit would later work on Shrek 2, as their influence can be seen for the character Donkey.[10] The production team, consisting of Kelly Asbury, Lorna Cook, Mireille Soria, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Kathy Altieri, Luc Desmarchelier, Ron Lukas, and story supervisor Ronnie del Carmen took a trip to the western United States to view scenic places they could use as inspiration for locations in the film. The homeland of the mustangs and Lakotas is based on Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, and the Teton mountain range; the cavalry outpost was also based on Monument Valley.

Traveling to all those different places, we were reminded that this is a magnificent country, so in some respects, it was a way for us to honor and to celebrate the grandeur in our own backyard. Geographically, we kind of threw convention out the window. We took the best from nature and gave it our own spin, and ultimately it served the story well.

— Lorna Cook, CinemaReview.com[11]


The instrumental score was composed by Hans Zimmer with songs by Bryan Adams in both the English and French versions of the album. The opening theme song for the film, "Here I Am" was written by Bryan Adams, Gretchen Peters, and Hans Zimmer. It was produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Another song, not included in the film itself (although it can be heard in the ending credits), is "Don't Let Go", which is sung by Bryan Adams with Sarah McLachlan on harmonies and piano. It was written by Bryan Adams, Gavin Greenaway, Robert John "Mutt" Lange, and Gretchen Peters. Many of the songs and arrangements were set in the American West, with themes based on love, landscapes, brotherhood, struggles, and journeys. Garth Brooks was originally supposed to write and record songs for the film but the deal fell through. The Italian versions of the songs were sung by Zucchero. The Spanish versions of the tracks on the album were sung by Erik Rubín (Hispanic America) and Raúl (Spain). The Brazilian version of the movie soundtrack was sung in Portuguese by Paulo Ricardo. The Norwegian versions of the songs were sung by Vegard Ylvisåker of the Norwegian comedy duo Ylvis.


Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron was released in theaters on May 24, 2002.

Home media[edit]

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron was released on VHS and DVD on November 19, 2002.[12] It was re-released on DVD on May 18, 2010.[13] The film was released on Blu-ray by Paramount Home Entertainment on May 13, 2014.[14]


Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron holds an overall approval rating of 69% based on 127 reviews, with an average rating of 6.40/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "A visually stunning film that may be too predictable and politically correct for adults, but should serve children well."[15] Review aggregator Metacritic gives the film a weighted average score of 52 out of 100, based on 29 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[16] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.[17]

Critic Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four and said in his review, "Uncluttered by comic supporting characters and cute sidekicks, Spirit is more pure and direct than most of the stories we see in animation – a fable I suspect younger viewers will strongly identify with."[18] Leonard Maltin of Hot Ticket called it "one of the most beautiful and exciting animated features ever made". Clay Smith of Access Hollywood considered the film "An Instant Classic".[19] Jason Solomons described the film as "a crudely drawn DreamWorks animation about a horse that saves the West by bucking a US Army General".[20] USA Today's Claudia Puig gave it 3 stars out of 4, writing that the filmmakers' "most significant achievement is fashioning a movie that will touch the hearts of both children and adults, as well as bring audiences to the edge of their seats."[21] Dave Kehr of the New York Times criticized the way in which the film portrayed Spirit and Little Creek as "pure cliches" and suggested that the film could have benefited from a comic relief character.[22] The film was screened out of competition at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.[23] Rain was the first animated horse to receive an honorary registration certificate from the American Paint Horse Association (APHA).[24]

Box office[edit]

When the film opened on Memorial Day Weekend 2002, the film earned $17,770,036 on the Friday-Sunday period, and $23,213,736 through the four-day weekend for a $6,998 average from 3,317 theaters. The film overall opened in fourth place behind Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Spider-Man, and Insomnia. In its second weekend, the film retreated 36% to $11,303,814 for a $3,362 average from expanding to 3,362 theaters and finishing in fifth place for the weekend. In its third weekend, the film decreased 18% to $9,303,808 for a $2,767 average from 3,362 theaters. The film closed on September 12, 2002, after earning $73,280,117 in the United States and Canada with an additional $49,283,422 overseas for a worldwide total of $122,563,539, against an $80 million budget.


Award Category Recipient(s) Result
ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards[25] Top Box Office Hans Zimmer
Bryan Adams
Academy Awards[26] Best Animated Feature Jeffrey Katzenberg Nominated
Annie Awards[27] Animated Theatrical Feature Nominated
Individual Achievement in Storyboarding Ronnie Del Carmen Won
Larry Leker Nominated
Simon Wells Nominated
Individual Achievement in Production Design Luc Desmarchelier Won
Individual Achievement in Character Design Carlos Grangel Won
Individual Achievement in Effects Animation Yancy Landquist Won
Jamie Lloyd Nominated
Critics Choice Awards[28] Best Animated Feature Nominated
Genesis Awards[29] Feature Film' Won
Golden Globes[30] Best Original Song – Motion Picture Hans Zimmer (music)
Bryan Adams (lyrics)
Gretchen Peters (lyrics)
for the song "Here I Am"
Kids' Choice Awards[31] Favorite Voice from an Animated Movie Matt Damon Nominated
Golden Reel Award[32] Best Sound Editing in Animated Features Tim Chau (supervising sound editor)
Carmen Baker (supervising sound editor)
Jim Brookshire (supervising dialogue editor/supervising adr editor)
Nils C. Jensen (sound editor)
Albert Gasser (sound editor)
David Kern (sound editor)
Piero Mura (sound editor)
Bruce Tanis (sound editor)
Best Sound Editing in Animated Features – Music Slamm Andrews (music editor/scoring editor)
Robb Boyd (music editor)
Online Film Critics Society Awards[33] Best Animated Feature Nominated
Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards Best Animated Film Nominated
Golden Satellite Awards[34] Best Motion Picture, Animated or Mixed Media Nominated
Visual Effects Society Awards[35] Best Character Animation in an Animated Motion Picture James Baxter Nominated
Western Heritage Awards[36] Theatrical Motion Picture Mireille Soria (producer)
Jeffrey Katzenberg (producer)
Kelly Asbury (director)
Lorna Cook (director)
John Fusco (writer)
Matt Damon (principal actor)
James Cromwell (principal actor)
Daniel Studi (principal actor)
World Soundtrack Awards[37] Best Original Song Written for a Film Hans Zimmer
Bryan Adams (lyricist/performer)
R.J. Lange (lyricist)
for the song "This Is Where I Belong"
Best Original Song Written for a Film Hans Zimmer
Bryan Adams (lyricist/performer)
Gretchen Peters (lyricist)
for the song "Here I Am"
Young Artist Awards[38] Best Family Feature Film – Animation Won

Expanded franchise[edit]

Video games[edit]

Two video games based on the film were released on October 28, 2002, by THQ: the PC game Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron — Forever Free and the Game Boy Advance game Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron — Search for Homeland.[39]

A third game "Lucky's Big Adventure" was released in 2021 based on the "Untamed" film sequel below.

Book Series

Shortly after the movie, a book series called “Spirit of the West” was released by writer Kathleen Duey; telling the story of Spirit’s family lineage and herd.

Spin-off television series[edit]

A computer-animated spin-off television series based on the film, titled Spirit Riding Free, premiered on Netflix on May 5, 2017.[40] The series follows all the daring adventures when Spirit, who is the offspring of the original, meets a girl named Lucky whose courage matches his own.[41][42]

Spin-off film[edit]

A computer-animated film, titled Spirit Untamed, was released on June 4, 2021 by Universal Pictures. It is a film adaptation of the spin-off series Spirit Riding Free as well as a spin-off of the original film.[43][44]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved October 11, 2018.
  2. ^ "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (U)". British Board of Film Classification. May 17, 2002. Retrieved August 27, 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron Box Office". BoxOfficeMojo. Retrieved June 1, 2011.
  4. ^ "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  5. ^ "The 75th Academy Awards | 2003". Oscars.org | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved May 9, 2019.
  6. ^ Green, Susan (January 9, 2002). "A Reel Revolution: Vermont's John Fusco Resurrects Ethan Allen on Film". Seven Days. Retrieved October 18, 2018. Fusco fell in love with American paint ponies and began a program to restore original Native American herds. This expertise made him a natural to write the script for Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, a DreamWorks animated film. It's scheduled to open on Memorial Day.
  7. ^ a b c Peszko, J. Paul (May 23, 2002). "Spirit: A Longshot Or A Sure Bet?". Animation World Network. Retrieved October 18, 2018.
  8. ^ Breznican, Anthony (May 24, 2002). "'SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON': A fresh perspective: An animated animal that doesn't speak". Kitsap Sun. Retrieved October 18, 2018.
  9. ^ Laura Clifford. "Spirit review". Reelingreviews.com. Retrieved June 1, 2011.
  10. ^ Majendie, Paul (May 17, 2002). "From Shrek to the horse's..." News24. Retrieved October 20, 2018.
  11. ^ "SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMMARON – Movie Production Notes". CinemaReview.com.
  12. ^ "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron". DVD Talk.
  13. ^ "Amazon.com: Spirit: Stallion of Cimarron: Spirit-Stallion of the Cimarron: Movies & TV". Retrieved September 22, 2014.
  14. ^ "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron Blu-ray". Blu-ray.com. Retrieved September 22, 2014.
  15. ^ "Spirit – Stallion of the Cimarron". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 10, 2021.
  16. ^ "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  17. ^ "Find CinemaScore" (Type "Spirit" in the search box). CinemaScore. Retrieved June 1, 2021.
  18. ^ "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron". RogerEbert. Retrieved December 16, 2016.
  19. ^ Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. DreamWorks Home Entertainment. 2006. ISBN 9780525467403.
  20. ^ Solomons, Jason (July 7, 2002). "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron". The Observer. Retrieved September 11, 2017.
  21. ^ Puig, Claudia (May 24, 2002). "In 'Spirit,' a mustang sallies forth". USA Today. Retrieved September 11, 2017.
  22. ^ Kehr, Dave (May 24, 2002). "An Old-Fashioned Cartoon of the West". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 11, 2017.
  23. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved November 4, 2009.
  24. ^ "DreamWorks' "Rain" becomes official American Paint Horse". Equiworld. Retrieved September 11, 2017.
  25. ^ "ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards – Top Box Office". ASCAP. April 30, 2003. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  26. ^ "THE 75TH ACADEMY AWARDS 2003". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved April 8, 2015.
  27. ^ Martin, Denise (January 5, 2003). "'Lilo' leads Annie noms with 10". Variety. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  28. ^ Lowe, R. Kinsey (December 18, 2002). "Critics' Choice nominees are ..." Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  29. ^ umane Society of The United States (February 25, 2003). "The Humane Society of The United States Announces Winners of The Seventeenth Annual Genesis Awards" (Press release). PR Newswire. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  30. ^ Lyman, Rick (December 20, 2002). "'Chicago' and 'The Hours' Lead Golden Globes Race". The New York Times. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  31. ^ "Nickelodeon's 16TH Annual Kids' Choice Awards Takes Stars, Music and Mess to the Next Level on Saturday, April 12 Live from Barker Hangar in Santa Monica" (Press release). Nickelodeon. February 13, 2003. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  32. ^ Martin, Denise (February 7, 2003). "'Gangs,' 'Perdition' top Golden Reel nods". Variety. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  33. ^ "2002 Awards (6th Annual)". Online Film Critics Society. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  34. ^ Berkshire, Geoff (December 17, 2002). "'Towers' stands tall in Satellites". Variety. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  35. ^ "1st Annual VES Awards". Visual Effects Society. Archived from the original on March 6, 2014. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  36. ^ "Winners announced for Western Heritage Awards". NewsOK. February 7, 2003. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  37. ^ Boehm, Erich (August 23, 2002). "Flanders unveils soundtrack noms". Variety. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  38. ^ "Twenty-Fourth Annual Young Artist Awards". Young Artist Awards. March 29, 2003. Archived from the original on August 18, 2016. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  39. ^ THQ (October 28, 2002). "THQ Ships Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron – Search for Homeland for Game Boy Advance and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron – Forever Free for PC" (Press release). THQ. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
  40. ^ Steinberg, Brian (June 16, 2016). "Netflix Readies Animated 'Spy Kids,' 'Llama Llama' Series (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved June 18, 2016.
  41. ^ Milligan, Mercedes (June 16, 2016). "Netflix Slates 5 Original Kids Toons Plus Nick Kroll Series".
  42. ^ "Netflix, DreamWorks bring the girl power in Spirit Riding Free".
  43. ^ Milligan, Mercedes (October 7, 2019). "DreamWorks, Universal Slate 'Spirit Riding Free' & 'Bad Guys' for 2021". Animation Magazine. Animation Magazine. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  44. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (November 10, 2020). "Jennifer Lopez Romantic Comedy 'Marry Me' Heads To Summer". Deadline. Retrieved November 10, 2020.

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