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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Spirit Untamed is DreamWorks Animation's reboot of their Spirit franchise (which includes both Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and the popular Spirit Riding Free series). This feature-length adventure tells the story of how young Lucky Prescott (voiced by Isabella Merced) forms a bond with a wild stallion in the Old West. Expect scenes of peril, an early parental death (not shown on-screen, but characters react), and kids making reckless choices to save Spirit and other wild horses from a band of thieves. The young characters face close calls and near injuries, and they make some iffy choices -- like running away in order to help the wild horses. But ultimately the story affirms strong relationships, the importance of caring for animals and dear friends, and the need for open communication between parents and kids. The all-star voice cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, McKenna Grace, and Andre Braugher.
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What's the story?
SPIRIT UNTAMED follows Fortuna "Lucky" Prescott, whose mother dies while doing a stunt in a rodeo show when Lucky is very young. She's raised to be a proper lady in the city by her Aunt Cora (Julianne Moore), until an unfortunate incident forces Cora to take Lucky to visit her father, Jim (Jake Gyllenhaal), who lives in the fictional frontier bordertown of Miradero. On the way there, Lucky sees a wild mustang and instantly feels drawn to it. When the horse, whom she calls Spirit, ends up in a local rancher's corral, Lucky keeps visiting him. She overhears a group of men, who are actually a band of thieves, boasting about their plans to steal wild horses and take them across the border -- beyond the reach of the law. Lucky, who's barely ridden a horse before, manages to convince her new Miradero friends, rodeo girls Pru (Marsai Martin) and Abigail (McKenna Grace), to join her in a dangerous plan to take Spirit (and the two other girls' horses) on a rescue mission to save Spirit's family.
Is it any good?
Horse-loving kids will enjoy this predictably sweet story about a trio of plucky girls in the Old West who defy the odds to save a pack of wild horses. Directors Elaine Bogan and Ennio Torresan's tale is part origin story for Lucky and Spirit, part "road trip" adventure (if you replace "road" with "horseback"), and part obvious setup for more about Lucky, her newfound best friends, and their horses in the little town of Miradero. There's plenty in Spirit Untamed for kids to enjoy: the horses, the vast animated frontier landscapes, the girls' daredevil personalities (particularly Lucky and Abigail; Pru usually serves as the voice of reason), and the silly duo of Abigail's entrepreneurial little brother, Snips (Lucian Perez), and his pet donkey, Señor Carrots. The girls' friendship grows quickly under the circumstances -- and thanks to their mutual affinity for horses. And any movie that includes strong female friendships (that have nothing to do with attracting boys) should be applauded.
Parents, on the other hand, may find themselves slightly underwhelmed at aspects of the plotline, particularly the lost opportunity to address and provide context around the intentionally diverse group of characters. Lucky's Latinx heritage is all but ignored, beyond the inclusion of a few Spanish words and a couple of early conversations. That aside, the movie is fun for younger audiences, and it will remind viewers about the importance of forming close friendships and strengthening parent-child trust. Parents and kids alike should also dig the soundtrack, which includes Fleet Foxes' "Ragged Wood," Taylor Swift's "Wildest Dreams," and original songs by star Merced.
Talk to your kids about ...
How does the movie tackle race and gender on the western frontier? Do fictional stories need to put gender roles and race relations in context for the time in which they're set? How can a story incorporate diverse voices while staying authentic?
Which characters do you consider role models? Does the story address the consequences of the girls' decisions and behavior? What do they learn from their mistakes?
- In theaters: June 4, 2021
- Cast: Isabela Merced, Jake Gyllenhaal, Marsai Martin, Julianne Moore
- Directors: Elaine Bogan, Ennio Torresan
- Studio: DreamWorks Animation
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Friendship, Horses and Farm Animals
- Character strengths: Courage, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 88 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some adventure action
- Last updated: June 9, 2021
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