'Spirit Untamed' Movie Review: Healing Horseplay

Spirit Untamed is the feature film version of the Netflix animated series Spirit Riding Free. Riding Free was itself an adaptation of the 2002 Dreamworks animated movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Untamed retells or reconfigures a lot of the plot of Riding Free, but develops a lot of the themes much further. 

This ‘Spirit’ movie has depth 

Lucky Prescott (Isabela Merced) was only a baby when her mother, Milagro (Eiza Gonzalez) died in a riding accident. As a teenager, she lives with her Aunt Cora (Julianne Moore) and her grandfather. Cora and Lucky return to live with Lucky’s father Jim (Jake Gyllenhaal) for the summer, where she encounters Spirit. 

Lucky first saw Spirit in the wild during her train ride. Once she arrives, Hendrix (Walton Goggins) has Spirit in a corral trying to tame him. Lucky and Spirit bond while she makes friends with Abigail (Mckenna Grace) and Pru (Marsai Martin). 

‘Spirit Untamed’ is an emotional rodeo

Spirit Untamed has a lot of sophisticated themes that work subtly in the story. Jim has understandable reservations about Lucky riding horses. Of course he would. His wife died on one and she was an expert rider, so he doesn’t want his novice daughte to risk it. Jim and Lucky have to cope with the loss of Milagro they never really dealt with. That’s a challenge beyond having a rebellious child who inevitably disobeys authority. 

Jim sent her away to keep her safe, i.e. keep her away from horses. But she feels abandoned. Jim could’ve gone with her but presumably he still needs the work of the corral. Spirit Untamed never makes these themes overt, but they’re there and they embed healthy messages in the wild mustang fun. 

Lucky and Spirit’s relationship grows naturally. He appreciates Lucky feeding him but still won’t let her ride him. When she tries, his bucking and running over precarious terrain is harrowing. This is a cartoon but it still creates the sense of danger. 

‘Spirit Untamed’ captures the majesty of the wild 

Lucky’s relationship with Spirit eventually becomes a rescue mission she goes on with Pru and Abigail. This is how they become PALs like they were on the series. The movie is well paced. It moves quickly and you don’t feel the time going by. 

Spirit Untamed boasts far more sophisticated animation than the Netflix series, which is funny because Stallion of the Cimarron was Dreamworks’ last attempt at traditional 2D animation like Disney. (They still used computers to help). Decades later Spirit joins the studio’s roster of CGI franchises. 

All of the environments are gorgeous, but especially a train bridge over pools of water. The whole idea of a western town with all the characters riding and roping animals is a feat of animation. There’s plenty of animated silliness for kids, too. Cora slips in cow poo doing animated pratfalls.

If this is your family’s first trip to the movies after the pandemic, Spirit: Untamed is a wonderful way to welcome your family back to theaters. And, if you’re not there yet, Spirit: Untamed will be waiting for you soon.

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