Every good kids movie needs a must-have villain, and The Colonel fits the bill in The Spirit. He is determined to get the Spirit back on his feet, to the point where he is possibly unhealthy obsessed with the hero horse.
At first, he seems to show only a passing interest in how difficult it becomes to “break” the wild stallion his people have acquired, but he eventually resorts to the Hungry Ghost for three days to break the horse’s will. He drinks water in front of a desperately thirsty Spirit to taunt him, makes absurd speeches about how the Spirit represents the American West itself, and participates in other similar theatrical productions.
Take it easy man; it’s just a horse. At the film’s climactic end, the Colonel leads the other soldiers on a ridiculously dangerous pursuit of the Spirit high into the mountains, only stopping when the horse makes an Evil Knievel-style jump across a huge chasm. At that moment, the Colonel nods to Spirit, somehow turning his glassy hatred into respect.
Aside from being a stand-in for the faceless imperialism of the US military, it’s not explained what makes the Colonel so tough; in another life, perhaps he could befriend Spirit with a friendlier approach, like Little Creek.