Many kids will enjoy this traditionally animated story about a brave wild mustang in the 19th century American west, but parents may find it overlong even at a running time of less than 90 minutes. Parents should also know that there are some scary scenes and that the story may be hard for younger children to follow because the horse characters do not talk.
Spirit is born (in a discreet G-rated scene) to a loving mare and grows up in a paradise of mountains and plains, with plenty to eat and drink and freedom to run as far as he can dream. He becomes the leader of the pack of horses, and watches out for his group to keep them safe from predators. His curiosity leads him to investigate a campsite, and he is captured by cavalry soldiers. A brutal commander tries to break him, but even starvation does not make him submit.
Spirit escapes with an Indian boy named Little Creek and they grow to care for each other. Spirit also cares for Little Creek’s pretty palomino, Rain. But Spirit still will not let anyone ride him. Little Creek sends Spirit back to his home, but he is captured again and has many more adventures before returning to his family.
There are some lovely and powerful images of horses racing through endless stretches of grass, mountains, and rivers. The scary scenes are very vivid, especially the fire and a railroad engine knocked off its tracks that comes tumbling downhill. But the story moves slowly, especially during the dreary Bryan Adams songs. The narration (by Matt Damon) is more poetic than descriptive, so younger kids will benefit from some discussion about the story before they get to the theater.
Parents should know that the movie may be too scary for younger kids. The soldiers use guns and treat Spirit harshly, applying whips and spurs. The blacksmith makes an unsuccessful attempt to brand him. Characters are in peril and it appears that one has been killed. There is a fire and a chase scene.
The Native American boy is portrayed as brave, compassionate, and honorable. Some families may be concerned that all of the white males are portrayed as brutal and insensitive.
Families should talk about the different ways that the Colonel and Little Creek have of trying to teach Spirit to carry a rider. Do different parents have different ways of teaching children? What ways work best? What made Spirit different from the other horses, those of his family and those he met on his travels? Families of older children might want to talk about the triumph and tragedy of the Westward Expansion in the 19th century.