In our review for 'The Croods: A New Age', we discussed the relationship that Netflix and DreamWorks have. Easily the biggest show the two have teamed up for is 'Spirit Riding Free', one of the strangest DreamWorks films to get a spinoff show. While the 2002 feature, 'Spirit: Stallion of Cimarron' has its fans, it's not one of the studio's big standouts, and the show is quite removed from the original film, seemingly an odd choice to restart this franchise in 2017, over 15 years since the film. Now in 2021, 'Spirit Untamed' serves as a sequel-ish to the original film (we'll get to that), as well as a film adaption of one of Netflix's biggest children's shows.
Lucky Prescott's (Isabela Merced, 'Dora and the Lost City of Gold', 'Instant Family') mother, Milagro Navarro (Eiza González, 'Godzilla vs. Kong', 'Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw') was a horse rider, but passed away when Lucky was a baby. She was sent from the wide open frontier to the U.S. east coast to be taken care of by her Aunt Cora (Julianne Moore, 'Still Alice', 'The Glorias') as her dad, Jim (Jake Gyllenhaal, 'Spider-Man: Far From Home', 'Nocturnal Animals'), was too heartbroken to raise her alone. But Lucky is like her mum and doesn't fit in with the rules there, so Cora takes her back to where she was born for the summer. Here, she not only becomes friends with Pru (Marsai Martin, TV's 'Black-ish', 'Little') and Abigail (Mckenna Grace, 'Gifted', 'Annabelle Comes Home') but discovers her love for horses when a wild Mustang, Spirit, comes into her life.
'Spirit Untamed' serves as a retelling of the first season of the Netflix series, and it never doesn't feel like that. Its story is incredibly rushed, especially when it comes to its characters. The plot thread of Lucky and her mother are set up to be the big plot points but are dropped instantly, while the journey they go on feels so small and lacking in stakes.
For someone unfamiliar with the show like myself, it's made only more confusing as the film never addresses the events of the 2002 film. Research reveals this Spirit isn't even the same horse - it's his offspring - but that's never brought up here. However, if you are a fan of the show and seen all 12 seasons, you'd probably rather watch the show as the film seems to gloss over a lot of events and changes events to make this timeline even more confusing. This weird "retelling" of the show's story adds nothing new and alienates fans of the original film.
'Spirit Untamed' serves as re-telling of the first season of the Netflix series and it never doesn't feel like that. Its story is incredibly rushed, especially when it comes to its characters.
Being a theatrical film, it comes with the expectation of a higher animation quality, especially when compared to the 2002 film, one of the prettiest hand-drawn films to come out in the early 2000s. But while a step up from the Netflix series, it never reaches higher than a modern 'Barbie' film meets that Disney Channel series 'Elena of Avalor'. While not bad, it still begs the question why this wasn't a Netflix original like the show. At first, I thought it might have something to do with DreamWorks possibly losing the 'Spirit' brand since now they are owned by Universal Studios, and they are starting to transition a lot of their franchises to their streaming service Peacock. But another DreamWorks/Netflix series, 'Trollhunters', is getting a film this July - and that is a Netflix Original.
While I still find it odd that they chose to just retell the first season of the show and not add to original film, 'Spirit Untamed' is a cute little kids film that has some heart and charm. I enjoyed the friendship the girls had, and some of the comedy, while simple, got a chuckle out of me. I just wished they tried a lot more, even just something as simple as going back to the realistic art style of the 2002 movie or telling a new story with the characters from the show. It's strange that this feature exists, and doesn't add anything new to the 'Spirit' franchise.