Almost two decades ago, the world was introduced to the Spirit Cinematic Universe with Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. The well-received film – perfect for horsey kids – inspired the Netflix streaming series Spirit Riding Free, which in turn inspired the upcoming film Spirit Untamed. When the trailer launched featuring Taylor Swift’s newly released version of “Wildest Dreams,” those horsey kids, along with their moms, were hyped. Too bad the trailer outshines the film.
The movie begins with a toddler-sized Lucky Prescott watching the tragic death of her mother who was performing in a horse show. We then fast forward to a tween-aged Lucky (Isabela Merced). who now lives with her grandfather. When she accidentally destroys the party that was intended to launch his campaign for governor, Lucky travels with her Aunt Cora (Julianne Moore) to return to her father Jim’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) home.
Lucky quickly befriends local girls Abigail (Mckenna Grace) and Pru (Marsai Martin), forming the PALs, the nickname for their group created by combining their initials. Lucky also befriends a wild horse who she names Spirit. When a group of horse wranglers capture Spirit and his herd, the PALs create a daring plan to rescue the horses.
In an effort to deliver Spirit Untamed on a shoestring budget, the animation was farmed out to Jellyfish Pictures instead of staying in-house with Dreamworks. The results Jellyfish produced lost all of the warmth and magic created in the hand-drawn and computer-animated hybrid Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. The quality of the 3D animation in Untamed felt more appropriate for a television series. The film’s setting provided ample opportunities for stunning visuals that were disappointingly never realized.
To coordinate with the unimpressive animation, the story of Spirit Untamed also fails to impress. Headstrong girl meets horse, horse is in danger, girl saves horse. Along the way, valuable lessons are learned. There are no particular surprises or strong emotional pulls. The story of a father struggling to reconnect with his daughter following a tragedy has potential, but it stays relegated to the background in favor of showcasing more horses.
For all of my quibbles about how Spirit Untamed is lackluster, I know I am not the target audience for this movie. There is a sizeable group of young children, especially little girls, who will love this film. Anyone who is a fan of the Netflix series will be thoroughly entertained. That is primarily because the film matches the quality of the series. It just lasts a lot longer and you cannot watch it at home.
The decision to release Spirit Untamed only in theaters creates an interesting conundrum. Do I consider the film worth a trip to the theater? No. After a year stuck at home, however, when it finally feels safe to head back to the movies, this might be a great way to treat your horse-obsessed kids. Just do not walk into the theater expecting it to be a treat for you as well.
Spirit Untamed is playing exclusively in theaters beginning on June 4, 2021.
About Spirit Untamed
Rating:PG (Some Adventure Action)
Runtime: 1h 28m
An epic adventure about a headstrong girl longing for a place to belong who discovers a kindred spirit when her life intersects with a wild horse, Spirit Untamed is the next chapter in the beloved story from DreamWorks Animation.
Lucky Prescott (Isabela Merced, Dora and the Lost City of Gold) never really knew her late mother, Milagro Navarro (Eiza González, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw), a fearless horse-riding stunt performer from Miradero, a small town on the edge of the wide-open frontier.
Like her mother, Lucky isn’t exactly a fan of rules and restrictions, which has caused her Aunt Cora (Academy Award® winner Julianne Moore) no small amount of worry. Lucky has grown up in an East Coast city under Cora’s watchful eye, but when Lucky presses her own luck with one too many risky escapades, Cora picks up stakes and moves them both back with Lucky’s father, Jim (Oscar® nominee Jake Gyllenhaal), in Miradero.
Lucky is decidedly unimpressed with the sleepy little town. She has a change of heart when she meets Spirit, a wild Mustang who shares her independent streak, and befriends two local horseback riders, Abigail Stone (Mckenna Grace, Captain Marvel) and Pru Granger (Marsai Martin, Little). Pru’s father, stable owner Al Granger (Emmy winner Andre Braugher, Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine), is the best friend of Lucky’s father.
When a heartless horse wrangler (Emmy nominee Walton Goggins, FX’s Justified) and his team plan to capture Spirit and his herd and auction them off to a life of captivity and hard labor, Lucky enlists her new friends and bravely embarks on the adventure of a lifetime to rescue the horse who has given her freedom and a sense of purpose, and has helped Lucky discover a connection to her mother’s legacy and to her Mexican heritage that she never expected.