Reviewed by Steve Simels

Think THE LION KING redone for horses, with fewer deliberate laughs, more inadvertent ones and stunningly trite songs by Bryan Adams, the world's most generic rock star. Think also an unholy mess that's far too intense and frightening for the small children who are its intended demographic (the G rating is hard to figure; at a pre-release screening hordes of tykes were escorted out of the theater crying in terror), and is, at best, a real camp hoot for any hapless adult trapped into watching it. Even worse, the film's much-ballyhooed merger of traditional hand-drawn and computer-generated animation is an uneasy fit; there are spectacular sequences, to be sure, but also a surprising number in which the mix of techniques seems as incongruous as a tarantula on a piece of angel food cake. The story, if that's the word, is relatively simple. Wild stallion Spirit (voice of Matt Damon) is born free and enjoys happy, young horse-hood and the glories of the early 19th-century American West until he's captured by the U.S. cavalry. An evil Colonel (James Cromwell) tries, unsuccessfully, to break him, but Spirit eventually escapes with the help of Native American prisoner Little Creek (Daniel Studi), who also yearns to be free. After various adventures, including a tragic dalliance with a frisky filly named Rain, the pretty pony is reunited with his herd and family to live happily ever after. The film's problems are numerous and considerable. For starters, the horses (which have eyebrows... disturbing) don't talk, communicating only through whinnying and nostril flaring. The result is an epic with more whinnying and nostril flaring than the average Judd Nelson film. The script is also shamelessly derivative, complete with a death-of-Bambi's-mother moment, a food-sharing scene straight out of LADY AND THE TRAMP and a beast-of-burden sequence so obviously lifted from the opening of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS that you wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the cavalry officers started yelling at their equine serfs in Egyptian. Worst of all are Adams's songs, which plumb unimagined depths of moronic literalism. When the Colonel first attempts to ride Spirit, for example, Adams's accompanying ditty actually concludes with the phrase "Get off my back."