Spirit Untamed Is Exactly the Kind of Family Film You'll Want to Watch This Summer
This weekend, my 6-year-old daughter and I headed to the theater to see Dreamworks's Spirit Untamed, which is a sequel/reboot of Dreamworks's 2002 Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. This new version follows the story of young Lucky Prescott (Isabela Merced), who is sent away from her grandfather's house after an embarrassing incident. Feeling off balance in the little town where she finds herself, Lucky finds comfort and rediscovers herself through Spirit, a wild stallion the town only wishes to see "broken" and tame.
For families who are fans of the Spirit universe, including the 2002 film and the Netflix series Spirit Riding Free that premiered in 2017, Spirit Untamed will be a welcome addition. However, for younger or more empathetic viewers, there are a few aspects of this new film that may be troubling, or which may ignite an important conversation among family members. Here's what parents may wish to prepare for.
- The plot includes the death of a parent.
In the first few minutes of the film, it is revealed that Lucky came from a happy family that was spun into tragedy. Lucky's mother was a horseback riding performer for "Las Caballeras," but while she was an impressive, even legendary, performer, it was ultimately her demise and what broke up her family. We look on as Lucky's mother performs, but as the screen pans away to the audience watching her, we see their shocked faces. Lucky's mother had been in a fatal accident on stage, and though we don't see it for ourselves, the loss may be enough to shock young viewers.
- There are moments of intensity, peril, and thievery.
After befriending Spirit, Lucky discovers that several men from the town captured Spirit and most of his herd, meaning to sell them off for a terrible, laborious life. Seeing Spirit and his herd captured was especially troubling for my daughter, as well as the use of whips, ropes, and spurs, which she was convinced were detrimentally harmful to the horses.
Lucky and her two gal pals, Pru and Abigail, decided to track the men and the herd down to bring the horses home. During their journey, there are physical struggles (like steep cliffs and rockslides) that can be intense and concerning for young children. My daughter seemed to be holding her breath during some of these moments, and when the girls survived, my daughter let out a loud, "Yay!" much to the chagrin of our viewing neighbors.
- The characters make some questionable choices.
The girls head out to save Spirit after completely disregarding the demands of Lucky's father. And despite all the good that the girls do, their journey was not without questionable decisions. Some of their traveling struggles could have been avoided if they thoroughly thought about which paths to take. None of this is uncommon in this type of film, but it may open the floor to discussion for families.
- There's a misrepresentation of Latinx culture.
There are some issues in the plot that left me wondering about the inclusive qualities of the film, and it also encouraged me to start a conversation with my 6-year-old about our heritage and other cultures. The film repeatedly uses Spanish words in the dialogue, which is endearing in a way, but also questionable and sometimes unrealistic. The group Lucky's mother performs with is "Las Caballeras," which has ties to Spain, rather than Mexico. More realistically, Lucky's mother probably performed with "Las Escaramuzas" or "Las Adelitas," which have origins in Mexico.
Though the film is far from perfect, it was an adorable and buoyant romp, full of love for horses and girl empowerment. The above issues will be troubling for some little viewers, easy to work through for others, and important conversation starters for any family. And for a 30-something-year-old like me who attended Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron in theaters when I was a child, this was a fun trip down memory lane.