The 2002 animated hit was followed by merchandise and two TV series. The CGI adventure is now primarily aimed at lovers of the latter Spirit Untamed. But surprisingly, the film is also likely to attract many newcomers. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: Spirit Untamed (USA 2021)
Young Lucky grows up with her Aunt Cora on the East Coast after her mother died when Lucky was small. The lively girl is a real whirlwind, and after her latest prank, Aunt Cora finally takes her to her father Jim in the prairie town of Miradero. At first, Lucky isn’t at all enthusiastic about the sleepy nest. That changes when she meets and becomes friends with the riding girls Abigail and Pru and their horses Chica Linda and Boomerang. But Lucky is particularly fascinated by Spirit, a wild mustang held captive in a nearby stable. Both share a great desire for freedom and quickly develop a very special friendship. When a group of bandits plan to sell Spirit and his herd, there’s no way Lucky can let that happen. Together with her new friends, the brave girl rides on the most exciting adventure of her life.
It was not foreseeable at the time of publication that “Spirit – The Wild Mustang” would develop into a pop culture phenomenon to this day. A cute cartoon look and even cuter horses in the focus of a classic adventure or not: the DreamWorks Animation production had a special feature compared to many similar films in its genre: in “Spirit” the animals cannot speak. Instead, they communicate with each other and with their two-legged friends using animal sounds and facial expressions. The audience didn’t seem to be bothered by the directing duo of Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook’s consistent rejection of excessive humanization; on the contrary. In this country, over 1.5 million people bought a cinema ticket for the film, in the USA the box office grossed 122 million US dollars (with production costs of around 80 million). Admittedly, Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks themselves usually post significantly higher numbers. But the animated series “Spirit: Wild and Free”, which was released as a result of the film and currently has 52 episodes in eight seasons, its spin-off “Spirit – Wild and Free: Horse Stories” and of course the numerous merchandise keep the “Spirit” brand a little Delay still running. The CGI film “Spirit – Free and Untamed”, which is now in cinemas, is likely to boost the hype even further.
The women and men perform spectacular tricks on their horses – and even delight Lucky.
When “Spirit – The Wild Mustang” came into cinemas almost twenty years ago, it seemed antiquated as a two-dimensional animated film; After all, at that time, animated film cinema was in the early stages of trying out three-dimensional trick cinema (“Toy Story” started the same trend seven years earlier). At that time, classic animation rarely made it onto the big screens. Nowadays, a return to the origins would probably have delighted fans of the original film. But the directors Elain Bogan (“The Dragon Riders of Berk”) and Ennio Toresan (“Teacher’s Pet”) chose a much more obvious approach to film: they fall back on the aesthetics of the already more current “Spirit” series. Something that also applies to the content. The “Spirit” film from 2021 now has nothing to do with the original story about the wild, untamed Mustang Spirit, whose well-known characteristics even appear in the reboot title. Instead, the authors Aury Wallington (who was already responsible for all of the Mustang’s TV outings) and Kristin Hahn (“The Morning Show”) go back to the plot of the very first “Spirit – Wild and Free” episode – reboot it, so to speak, and blow it up to fit the screen. What sounds a bit clumsy in this context is to be understood as entirely positive. “Spirit – Free and Untamed” is particularly impressive visually – and not just in comparison to the series, which is of course much cheaper in terms of production technology.
“For the film, the authors Aury Wallington and Kristin Hahn resort to the plot of the very first ‘Spirit – Wild and Free’ episode – they reboot it, so to speak, and inflate it to fit the screen.”
With a budget of just 30 million dollars, which the film only grossed out in the USA (there, “Spirit – Free and Untamed” was available as a premium VOD on iTunes and Co. shortly after its theatrical release anyway ), of course those responsible didn’t manage to create such spectacular visual power as you’d expect from animation front runners who are constantly setting new technical standards. Nevertheless, “Spirit – Free and Untamed” looks really good. While the design of the horses and people tends to focus on a minimalist, not too detailed, but also very natural look, especially when it comes to the four-legged friends’ movements, the backgrounds – be they mountains, steppe or prairie – look extremely elaborate and sometimes almost photorealistic. This is especially true for the night scenes; One of them is one of the highlights of the entire film, when protagonist Lucky carefully tries to gain the trust of a wild herd of wild horses with the help of Spirit.
Abigail, Lucky and Pru do everything they can to protect the wild mustangs from the horse catchers.
This idyllic picture is suddenly interrupted when cowboys use brutal means to start hunting the mustangs in order to then sell them. Of course, a film like “Spirit – Free and Untamed” does not address the complexity that would be necessary in view of the difficult relationship between US nature and environmental protection, the population and the wild horses, which have now become a real nuisance in many places to offer an all-encompassing insight into the intricate world of horse protection (on this topic we recommend the documentary “Magic of Wild Horses” by Caro Liebig). And yet those responsible still manage to focus on a topic that can sensitize a young audience to the connection between humans, nature and animals. With the help of a very clear division into protagonist and antagonist (the horse girls are the good guys, the horse catchers are the bad guys), “Spirit – Free and Untamed” creates awareness of the needs of wild animals, their importance for the ecosystem and that people are just guests in nature. These lines of thought run like a common thread through the entire film. A first meeting between Lucky, who was previously inexperienced with horses, and some much more experienced riders is even a discussion about “breaking” horses (here somewhat equivalent to taming and subsequent training). “Spirit – Free and Untamed” corresponds dramaturgically to the classic horse-girl film blueprint for a long time, but is not exclusively aimed at the teamwork between man and horse, but goes a little further – especially thanks to its consistent ending.
“With the help of a very clear division into protagonists and antagonists (the horse girls are the good guys, the horse catchers are the bad guys), ‘Spirit’ creates awareness of the needs of wild animals, their importance for the ecosystem and that humans in where nature is just a guest.”
While “Spirit – The Wild Mustang” was a rather melancholic and therefore only partially child-friendly film, far removed from good-humored horse adventures, “Spirit – Free and Untamed” is more in line with the latter in terms of content; The references to the series alone don’t allow for a similar adult approach to the story as the first film. But the decision not to create a contrived happy ending by hook or by crook (to all parents: don’t worry – the good guys win in the end, but the finale still has a surprise in store!) shows that the makers have a certain responsibility towards them topics addressed here. In addition, “Spirit – Free and Untamed” scores with entertainment, humor and lots of girl interaction when the three horse friends indulge in a classic adventure on the backs of their four-legged friends in the second half. Nevertheless: There is more content in “Spirit – Free and Untamed” than expected.
Conclusion: Visually, “Spirit – Free and Untamed” is based on the style of the animated series that appeared as a result of the animated adventure “Spirit – The Wild Mustang”, but scores points here with a significantly higher production value. In terms of content, the film competes with numerous horse-girl adventures, but it works neither better nor worse than any of the others and, on top of that, creates an understanding of the living conditions and needs of wild horses.
“Spirit – Free and Untamed” can be seen in cinemas from July 22, 2021.