It’s been almost two decades since the adventures of a Kiger Mustang stallion named Spirit were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” lost to another spirited entry, “Spirited Away” from Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki, but spawned a cottage industry in the form of television shows and video games.
This weekend the headstrong horse goes on another feature length DreamWorks Animation adventure in “Spirit Untamed.” Now playing in theatres, it’s a re-imagined version of the television series “Spirit Riding Free.”
First some background.
Lucky Prescott’s (Isabela Merced) mother Milagro was a fearless horse trick rider from Miradero, a small town in America’s Wild West.
Milagro’s legend looms large in Lucky’s imagination, but she never got to know her. After her mother’s death, Lucky was raised on the East Coast by Aunt Cora (Julianne Moore), a straightlaced woman who struggled with his niece’s inherited wild side.
When Lucky pushes her luck too far, Aunt Cora decides the youngster needs stability in the form of her father, Jim (Jake Gyllenhaal) in the family home in sleepy little Miradero.
Life in the small town doesn’t sit well with Lucky until she meets her kindred spirit, a wild Mustang who shares her independent streak. The horse, Spirit, is the leader of a herd of wild stallions who become the target of animal poachers led by the evil Hendricks (Walton Goggins).
In an effort to save the horses from a life of captivity and hard labor Lucky recruits two local horseback riders, Abigail Stone (Mckenna Grace) and Pru Granger (Marsai Martin), and embarks on a rescue mission.
“Spirit Untamed” contains good messages about independence but also about being connected to a larger community. Lucky and Spirit are, well, spirited in their own ways but their true strength lies in their respect for the people and horses around them.
It is a simply told story of empowerment that doesn’t gallop over any new ground but, hackneyed though the message may be, it’s still an important one for younger viewers.
The big-eyed Margaret Keanesque character animation is nicely rendered, accompanied by energetic voice work, and should appeal to fans of the original. Younger viewers, who may not have been around when the original made a stir, could find parallels between this and the “How to Train Your Dragon” franchise.
With “Cruella” taking a dark turn, “Spirit Untamed” is the best family flick of the season.