Almost two decades after the first film, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and the Netflix series Spirit Riding Free, that is heading to its ninth season, the free-spirited Mustang returned on the silver screen with the feature Spirit Untamed.
If Jonathan Swift celebrated the equine species through Gulliver’s visit to the Land of the Houyhnhnms described in his Travels, the DreamWorks Animation franchise glorifies — with equal impetus — the hoofed mammal and its wild quality. The film marks the feature directorial debuts of Elaine Bogan and Ennio Torresan Jr., who animate a screenplay written by Aury Wallington and Kristin Hahn.
The story is enjoyable, even if one is unaware of its previous instalments. In Spirit Untamed, Lucky Prescott who lost her mother, Milagro Navarro, as a child, is fascinated by the stories that describe her as a fearless riding stuntman from Miradero, a small town on the border. Like her mother, Lucky is a free spirit, which has troubled her aunt Cora, who raised her in a town on the East Coast of the United States. The time comes for Lucky to return to her father Jim in Miradero. Here she will experience a love at first sight with a rebellious Mustang she names Spirit, who shares her rebellious inner nature. Lucky also befriends two local horse-girls, Abigail Stone and Pru Granger, who will eventually become her BFFs and will experience some remarkable adventures together. When a heartless horse trainer and his team plan to capture Spirit and his herd and auction them off for a life of captivity and hard work, Lucky reunites with her girl friends and boldly embarks on the quest to save the horse, which helps her discover a connection to her mother’s legacy and her Mexican heritage that she never expected.
The history of the rapport between humans and horses, goes all the way back to 5,000 years ago, when men domesticated these wild creatures. The DreamWorks Animation feature focuses on portraying a respectful interaction between the two, by condemning the domination and exploitation of equines. The fact that the respect we owe horses is shown through the care and tenderness of a young girl, seems to implicitly refer to the theories of Marija Gimbutas. The Lithuanian archaeologist and anthropologist reconstructed, decades ago, how ancient matriarchal societies were overtaken by patriarchy, when the male gender first domesticated horses. This occurred around 3500 BC, on the steppes of southern Russia and Kazakhstan. Men transformed the horse in a war machine. Thus, it doesn’t seem like a casual choice that Spirit Untamed, is drenched with girl power that is trying to restore harmony between nature and humanity. Milagro’s spirit guides her daughter, as well as Abigail and Pru, throughout this ecofeminist plight, against the evil men who want to violently tame the wild horses.
The mix of computer animation and traditional hand-drawn styles, is lulled by a motivational music score, with songs such as Fearless and You Belong that push all the right buttons for children and adults, evoking the sense of belonging and encouraging to overcome insecurities in life. The voice-cast that animates Spirit Untamed is A-list: American actress-singer Isabela Merced is Lucky, Jake Gyllenhaal plays the father Jim, Julianne Moore is aunt Cora, Mckenna Grace who some will recognise from The Handmaid’s Tale is Abigail, Marsai Martin known for ABC sit-com Black-ish is Pru, Walton Goggins gives his voice to the villain Hendricks and Mexican actress and singer Eiza González is Milagro.
The film is an ode to forgotten values, from those related to the wilderness, to the medium of cinema — a Zoetrope is inserted at one point in the film, showing how the pre-film animation device brings moving pictures to life. In its utter simplicity, Spirit Untamed is composed by many subtle layers full of profound meanings, united by a main thread that centres around animal welfare.
Final Grade: B+