Monday, May 31, 2021

Spirit Untamed

This new offering from DreamWorks Animation is a simple, yet enjoyable and moving story about Lucky and a wild horse she names Spirit. 

In the opening scene we meet Lucky as a baby and her loving parents: Milagro, a famous horse riding stunt performer and Jim Prescott (Jake Gyllenhaal), a train engineer in small town Miradero. Her mother dies in a riding accident (unseen to the viewer), and the story quickly moves forward ten years, to the home where she has been raised by her Aunt Cora (Julianne Moore) and grandfather.

Lucky (Isabela Merced) and Aunt Cora travel to Miradero to visit for the summer, and on the train ride out she is enamoured with a herd of wild horses running alongside the train led by a yellow stallion. She reconnects with her father, and meets two girls who quickly become friends - Abigail and Prue, and their horses.

A local hustler has managed to catch the stallion putting him in a corral. Over some days, Lucky befriends him, slowly and carefully with the help of apples, and some hints from her horse-loving friends. Various adventures follow with the horses, culminating in the entire herd being captured by the hustler and loaded onto a train to take out the country. The girls set out on horseback to intercept the train.

The animation of the horses is lovely and very realistic. Anyone who has spent time with horses will recognise numerous elements of their behaviour: skittishness, blowing air through the nose, love of various foods, and their body movements. The only thing that I realised half way through that was missing was the obvious indications of gender which in stallions are clearly present in real life.

It’s not clear which country or timeframe we are in, but to hazard a guess, I’d suggest the turn of the 19th/20th century (for the long skirts and dresses worn by the women, and the ‘old west’ feel of the town). It’s probably meant to be the southern US or Mexico, considering the clothing style and Spanish language elements.

There are some lovely scenes, including a clever Tango style dance between Lucky and Spirit as they get to know each other, and some funny interactions between the girls when they camp out. The music soundtrack was enjoyable throughout, and the animations were mostly excellent - the scenery, people and horses very believable and realistic.

The exception to the great animation however, is the persistence by studios to portray girls and women disproportionately. While Abigail has a realistically proportioned body (and eyes), as did Aunt Cora, they can’t resist making Lucky impossibly thin, with stick legs but a huge head, enormous eyes and a mane of hair - she almost looks lopsided. The father looks like a normally structured man, but some of the other men are impossibly large chested. I wish animation studios would have main characters less stylised and ‘perfect’, embracing realistic body variations, not impossible ones.

It’s suitable for pretty much all ages. The story is simple - no overblown dramatics here, the family has disagreements but sorts them out pretty fast, the friends are kind to each other, the baddies are mean but not too scary, and even the dramatic scenes probably wouldn’t worry many younger children. Our viewing was full of kids aged about 4-10 and they all seemed to enjoy it. Because of the story - young girl meets horse, there are no romantic scenes at all, and I suspect the ending will be satisfying to all.

I don’t think it will become a classic, but it’s a good, solid and enjoyable story for younger kids (and my teenagers quite liked it too!)

I was a guest of Universal Pictures.