Kid-friendly adventure displays a gentle 'Spirit'

'Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" opens in American theaters today, and on its way it dropped in on the film festival here.

It was a surprise guest, since animations rarely show in the official selection. When one does, as "Shrek" did last year, it usually has some groundbreaking quality that makes it newsworthy.

The makers of "Spirit" clearly used high-tech gadgetry to achieve their effects, but at heart this is a kid-friendly adventure with a proudly old-fashioned look. "The studios like to call them animations," senior animator James Baxter told me at a reception for the film, "but hey, they're really cartoons." That unpretentious approach is the movie's most refreshing asset.

The story is simple, following Spirit's adventures as he dodges a cavalry captain who wants to own him, befriends a Lakota brave who helps him escape, and meets a pretty female horse named Rain along the way.

While this isn't an original tale, it gains some interest by reversing the prejudices of most classic Hollywood westerns, making a military officer the villain and an Indian the most sympathetic human character.

At a time when cartoons like "Shrek" and "Monsters, Inc." use fully computerized techniques to fill the screen with flamboyant images, I doubt if the gentle "Spirit" will captivate enough teens and young adults to become a full-blown hit. It certainly wasn't well received here. In the magazine Le Film Français, 11 out of 12 reviewers gave it their lowest rating.

If it does succeed at the box office, though, it will augur well for upcoming movies like "Lilo & Stitch" and "Treasure Planet," which also steer away from a fully computerized appearance. In any case, little kids will love it.

• Rated G; contains mild action violence.

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