A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Running Wild is a drama about a widow who signs her horse farm up for a prison rehabilitation program to earn the money she needs to save her ranch and tame the starving wild horses that have strayed onto her property. Like The Dog Lover, this film was produced by an organization whose mission is to safeguard the freedom of farmers, hunters, anglers, outdoor enthusiasts, and animal breeders/owners -- making that a priority over animal rights. Here, the story calls out activists who want to save wild horses. Expect more strong language than usual for a PG-rated film: There are several uses of "s--t," "a--hole," "bulls--t," and more. There are also a couple of scenes of violence due to fire, a minor explosion, and a fist fight. The widow drinks quite a bit right after her husband dies, and there's one big kiss after some romantic tension.
What's the story?
RUNNING WILD follows the story of Stella Davis (Dorian Brown), a wealthy Texas horse rancher's wife who's widowed in the movie's opening scene. Stella soon discovers that her husband left her nearly bankrupt and that she has only a couple of months to pay down massive debts if she doesn't want to lose her ranch. She asks go-to ranch hand Brannon (Jason Lewis) to help brainstorm money-making ideas, which initially seem limited to putting their prized stallion out to stud. Then, while surveying her land, Stella comes across starving wild mustangs that have strayed onto the property, and she convinces Brannon to help her feed and pen them. They stay within the law by applying for a program that pairs prison inmates with ranches for off-site work with animals (the ranch gets money for participating). The inmates include Jon (Tommy Flanagan), an older Scottish convict; young Debrickshaw (Tom Williamson), who was tried as an adult for arson; and several others. Things progress well until billionaire Meredith Parish (Sharon Stone), an activist for the rights of wild horses, arrives in town; her sister, Jennifer (Christina Moore), wants to buy the Davis ranch and thinks Meredith can help her get her way. Meredith believes domesticating wild horses is akin to equine slavery, so she protests in front of Stella's ranch daily and even incites younger activists to do "whatever's necessary" to sabotage the ranch.
Is it any good?
Despite the filmmakers' overtly anti-activist agenda, this drama is well acted and has a couple of surprisingly empowering messages about women and even prison rehabilitation. There are really several stories rolled into one in Running Wild: One is the framing story in which Stella, whom Brown plays charmingly, havs to find her own way after her dead husband all but loses the family ranch. Second is the tale of the prison rehab program about the inmates allowed to work on the ranch. And third is the plot's politically motivated arc about the extremist activist who cares more about horses than people. There's also a slight romantic subplot between Stella and Brannon, but that takes a backseat to the ranch saving and self empowerment themes.
With decent production values and talented actors, Running Wild is like a Lifetime movie that happens to be produced by a conservative billionaire who thinks animal rights activists are fringe extremists trying to curb freedom. On the surface, the story makes sense, because Stone's character is misguided, misleading, and misinformed. She's willing to lie, cheat, and bribe her way to get what she wants (the mustangs' freedom), and she doesn't seem to grasp that wild horse overpopulation is a serious problem. Of course, by the end of the movie, justice prevails, but somehow the message isn't quite as heavy handed as it was in The Dog Lover. Still, it's important to know that even though the movie clearly has heart, it was definitely made with an agenda.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the messages in Running Wild. Do you think it's OK for movies to promote specific points of view/ways of thinking on potentially controversial issues? Do you need to agree with those positions in order to enjoy the movies that promote them?
What did you learn about the overpopulation of wild horses/mustangs out West? Did you realize that was an issue?
Who do you think the movie's intended audience is? What message do the filmmakers want them to take away from watching it?
- In theaters: February 10, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: April 4, 2017
- Cast: Sharon Stone, Jason Lewis, Tommy Flanagan
- Director: Alex Ranarivelo
- Studio: ESX Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Horses and Farm Animals, Wild Animals
- Run time: 89 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic content, language and brief suggestive material
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.