DreamWorks has a way of making ideas into franchises, and that is the exact formula they have used with ‘Spirit.’ In 2002, the company released the cartoon ‘Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron’ before a long hiatus with the return of a computer-animated streaming series in 2017 on Netflix, ‘Spirit: Riding Free.’ Now audiences have ‘Spirit: Untamed.’ One film/show doesn’t directly play on the same timeline as the other, but both films are set sometime in the late 19th century and the series helps with the basis for the latest film with its pilot that debuted. ‘Spirit: Untamed’ in a way retells the story of the pilot that debuted a few years ago on the popular streaming service and recasts the story in a way.
For one, instead of Lucky Prescott living in a frontier and adjusting to life with equestrian influences, she (played by Isabela Merced) arrives in Miradero, accompanied by her Aunt Cora (Julianne Moore), to stay with her widower father Jim (Jake Gyllenhaal) after an incident occurs at her grandfather’s gubernatorial campaign launch party. This sets off everything in motion, as Lucky hasn’t spent much time with her father after her mother’s death.
Audiences get a clue into how the family tragedy occurred in the first scene, and it ultimately helps set up the story for the rest of the film. Lucky’s mother was a horseback performer who suffers a bad fall that proves to be fatal, so, Lucky’s father who obviously still has issues with the way he lost his wife is cautious, especially around horses.
Lucky though is drawn to them, and especially one named, you guessed it, Spirit.
Being a decade older from when her mother passed, Lucky is in a mind-frame of trying to feel closer to the woman she only knew as a baby. That means getting closer to those who used to perform with her mother in the fictional place which is described as a “small town on the edge of the wide-open frontier.” But it’s really that one horse, Spirit, who Lucky connects with. She subsequently spots the horse first on the train into town (fans of the series will recognize this) and then again when she unknowingly happens upon a corral where the horse is being kept to by a band of bad news horse wranglers who hope to “break” him, something common in the world of riding to make animals more manageable.
Lucky keeps building her bond with the horse and eventually with two other girls, Abigail Stone (McKenna Grace) and Pru Granger (Marsai Martin), who also teach Lucky the “foundations” of earning a horse’s trust— calmness, confidence and carrots.
The three girls together then form a plan to help Spirit and the other wild horses when they realize what the horse wranglers are really intending.
For this particular film, DreamWorks and director Elaine Bogan with help from Ennio Torresan, Jr. obviously made some changes involving animation. Most forms of traditional drawing with animated films (as seen in the original in 2002 film) are no longer used and 3D technology is rathere utilized to help construct a more detailed narrative. The results do provide a beautiful backdrop of the land and the horses in a more intricate way.
On that note, another beautiful aspect to the film is definitely the moments shared between the three new friends, and it’s not just sophomoric values either that are explored. Throughout ‘Spirit: Untamed,’ audiences get lessons in the form of respect, morals and even platonic love. That is also shown through the father-daughter relationship, one that began with tragedy at the beginning of the film and has nowhere to go but up when it comes to closeness.
In the original film that came out almost two decades ago, the issue of white colonization and the violence that was endured from said colonizers by the indigenous population is presented, whereas this film brings the lens in a bit and focuses more on familial relationships and friendships. There is, of course, fear thrown in there. Lucky’s father forbids her to ride horses, while the young girl feels a compelling pull to not even obey, in fact, she does the complete opposite almost right away. On the other hand, those who watched and loved the show should know that the stories do not parallel, just the characters do.
As the film continues to unfold, audiences will get that Spirit action: The horse who can’t be tamed who befriends the girl who is trying to make sense of it all—her life, her tragedies and her future. There are also comments on the natural aspect of it all, most of the Spirit endeavors do, but this film breathes a new life into the franchise. While the former were a bit more socially focused in the form of issues, ‘Spirit:Untamed’ is a nice journey down memory lane in a way for those who loved the series and a great movie choice for a family.
‘Spirit: Untamed’ hits theaters June 4.