Proving that you can’t keep a good horse down, almost two decades after DreamWorks Animation brought audiences “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron,” the Kiger Mustang returns to the big screen in an all-new epic adventure based on the Netflix series “Spirit Riding Free,” which debuted in 2017. “Spirit Untamed” takes the pilot episode from the television show and gives it a fresh reboot complete with an expanded character arc for heroine Lucky Prescott (Isabel Merced) who is just as untamed as the horse she befriends. Beautiful animation, an excellent voice cast and diverse characters make this a real treat for all audiences, especially young girls.
Elaine Bogan makes her feature directorial debut with “Spirit Untamed” after working as a storyboard artist on DreamWorks animated films including “Monsters vs. Aliens” and “How to Train Your Dragon,” and as a director on the television series “Dragons: Riders of Berk.” All of that animation experience is great, but Bogan’s greatest asset may be the fact that she’s been an equestrian since age 9. She knows horses and to make sure the animators were familiar with the characteristics of these beautiful animals, Bogan along with co-director Ennio Torresan Jr. (brought in to keep the film balanced), scheduled a field trip to the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. It paid off with realistic CGI that brings Spirit and his herd to life.
Written by “Spirit Riding Free” creator Aury Wallington and Kristin Hahn, the adventure begins as 12-year-old Lucky (Merced from “Dora and the Lost City of Gold”) journeys by train from the East Coast back to her small hometown Miradero to live with her father, Jim (Jake Gyllenhaal), after the rambunctious preteen proves to be too much for her Aunt Cora (Julianne Moore). When Lucky’s mom, Milagro Navarro (Eiza González), passed away when she was two, Jim sent her away to live with his sister after being devastated by his wife’s death. He feels guilty; Lucky feels abandoned; and together, they work at repairing their relationship.
On the train ride to Miradero, a group of wild horses catches the attention of Lucky who eventually befriends the herd’s leader, nicknaming the wild stallion Excellent, I mean Spirit (insert air guitar). The herd also catches the eye of Hendricks, a horse wrangler and the story’s central villain voiced by the wonderful Walton Goggins, the actor everyone loves to hate who plays the bad guy in 99% of his films including Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” and “The Hateful Eight.”
It doesn’t take long for Lucky to make friends with brainy Pru (Marsai Martin of “Black-ish”) and quirky Abigal (Mckenna Grace), 12-year-old horse enthusiasts who know of Lucky from her late mother Milagro, the town’s famous horseback-riding stunt performer. Together, the three young girls set out on a daring adventure to rescue Spirit and the wild herd after Hendricks and his henchman capture the horses and load them on a train to send them to auction and a life of hard labor.
“Spirit Untamed” is unbridled fun for the whole family. The diverse animated film embraces its Mexican heritage while giving just about everyone in the audience a character they can relate to. Young girls should easily embrace the three young heroines that drive the story. The film also works well as a standalone entry in the franchise that doesn’t require viewing of the 2002 film or the Netflix series.
The vibrant animation jumps off the screen, a great voice cast of A-list actors takes over the reins of the TV series, and Amie Doherty’s orchestral score drives the animated adventure accentuated by Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold’s vocals. Saddle up and ride hard to catch this enjoyable family film.