Starring (voices): Matt Damon, Daniel Studi, James Cromwell

Director: Kelly Asbury, Lorna Cook
Released: 2002

Mood: If you need cheering up and want to pretend that horses still roam free with the wind.


I was having a shitty day the other day. The kind of day where you wake up in a sweaty panic and it goes downhill from there. By evening, I needed two things: beer, and a guaranteed feel-good movie.


Hello, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron!


I hadn’t seen this movie in a long-ass time, so I honestly couldn’t remember what it was about other than horses. But it’s got everything a horse girl needs:


  • Horses
  • Not Disney-fied talking horses, but realistic horses that communicate through body language with other horses and think “two-legs” are weird
  • A plausible horse-human relationship that doesn’t involve some stupid person seeing a wild horse and taming them the first time they get on and then winning everything
  • A super cute horse romance
  • Seriously, horses

What I didn’t realize until now was that it’s also very much a Western. And as a Western, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron deserves a review on my site.


photo of the spirit DVD propped against a green fence, with a horse eating hay from a round feeder in the background


Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is the story of, you guessed it, a mustang stallion named Spirit. He’s all wild and free in the late 1800s American West, until some Union soldiers try to round up his herd. Spirit manages to lead them away, but gets himself captured in the process. The soldiers take him to their fort and repeatedly attempt to break him.


While in captivity, Spirit meets a young Lakota man named Little Creek, another free spirit being held prisoner. Little Creek helps him get loose, only to rope him and take him back to the Lakota people. But Spirit is treated differently there, and meets a pretty paint mare named Rain.


And THEN a cavalry regiment destroys the village, and Spirit is recaptured. He realizes that the white people’s big metal machine is going to destroy his home, so it’s up to this spirited stallion to stop the Transcontinental Railroad.


illustration of a fancy moustache


Spirit may be predictable, and too gentle in its view of the American Indian Wars, but it’s also a G-rated kids movie. You have to own that you’re watching it because you’re a grownup and you just want a cartoon horse to cheer you up.


Either that or you have kids. I sometimes forget they exist.


Spirit has a lot of heart, and it’s a solid story about trust and staying true to yourself. One that I daresay rivals that of Frozen.


DreamWorks designers used a blend of hand-drawn and computer animation that feels richer than an oldschool Disney movie, but less produced than a Pixar film. I mean that in a good way – it gives you that nostalgic animated movie vibe, but the opening scene alone apparently took over nine months alone to animate, and there’s a breathtaking amount of detail.


Supporting their decision to have the horses act like actual horses, the studio did a ton of research. The sounds were all recorded at an actual stable, and Spirit was drawn and animated based on a real mustang who now lives on a wild horse sanctuary.


Here are some other fun facts adults can appreciate about Spirit:


  • The screenplay was written by John Fusco, who also wrote Young Guns I & II and Hidalgo
  • The soundtrack is written by the legendary Hans Zimmer and performed by Canadian national treasure Bryan Adams – Garth Brooks was originally signed on but fell through
  • Tom Hanks and Robert Redford were both considered for the narrating voice of Spirit, but a wise choice was made in casting Matt Damon
  • Little Creek is voiced by Daniel Studi, son of the F*CKING ICONIC Wes Studi (Geronimo, The Last of the Mohicans, Comanche Moon, and Hostiles, to name a few)

If I’m being picky, which is kinda my job… these horses do neigh a LOT. Real horses don’t do that. My two live right outside my window, and I only hear neighs when I take one out to ride and the other is pissed at me. But that’s a complaint that applies to basically every horse movie ever.


If you want an animated Western, the options are seriously limited. You’ve basically got Spirit, Home on the Range, and Rango. Spirit definitely gave me all of the good feels. You can suspend belief and feel like if you fought hard enough, the U.S. Army would back down and respect you, and the horses and Indigenous folks won and the West is still the good kind of wild.


For a minute I also felt bad about my captive horses, but then I remembered that my thoroughbred is afraid of donkeys and rats and snowflakes and couldn’t survive in the wilderness.


If you can put up with your partner obnoxiously singing other Bryan Adams songs throughout this movie, you’re all set for a horsey afternoon of self-care on the couch.