As theaters around the country begin to reopen, "Spirit Untamed," the family-friendly animated film from DreamWorks Animation, encourages viewers to uplift one another and appreciate the beauty that can be found in loving those in front of them: family, friends, and animals alike.
Directed by Elaine Bogan along with Ennio Torresan Jr., "Spirit Untamed" tells the story of Lucky Prescott (Isabela Merced), an adventurous and cheerful 12-year-old who forges an unlikely friendship with a wild mustang named Spirit.
The latest chapter in DreamWorks Animation’s beloved “Spirit” franchise opens as Lucky’s mother, Milagro Navarro (Eiza González), performs a horse-riding stunt that leads to her death. Fast forward a few years, and a now-preteen Lucky accidentally ruins her grandfather’s gubernatorial campaign launch party. The unfortunate — and hilarious — incident prompts Lucky’s prim-and-proper Aunt Cora (Julianne Moore), to bring the teen to stay in the sleepy town of Miradero with her widower father, Jim (Jake Gyllenhaal), for the summer.
While on the train, Lucky spots Spirit outside her window and instantly connects with the mustang’s independent nature. After arriving in Miradero, Lucky sets out to find the horse. However, Spirit and his family have been captured by an evil band of horse wranglers who plan to auction the horses to the highest bidder, subjecting them to a life of captivity and hard labor.
Against her father’s wishes, Lucky secretly spends time with the spirited animal, who begins to trust her in the process. Along the way, Lucky builds friendships with two other equally adventurous girls: Abigail Stone (McKenna Grace) and Pru Granger (Marsai Martin). Together, the three girls embark on a daring adventure to rescue Lucky, learning about friendship, trust, and perseverance in the process.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Bogan said that it was important for filmmakers — a team largely made up of women and mothers — to create an “authentic and believable” world in which characters supported and encouraged one another.
“The characters in this movie are hopefully telling a story of supporting each other, and the sisterhood of the three girls, Jim supporting Lucky, and Lucky supporting Spirit and getting him where he needs to go — none of our characters are competing to get there first. They're all carrying each other, and they're all lifting each other up. That was huge for us; that was a big, big goal in telling our story,” she said.
“It was important for us to rely on a group of young women that all came from very different unique perspectives and cultures in life, to communicate the idea that it's because of our differences [that] we're so special and necessary in helping each other achieve what we need to achieve," she added.
Grace, herself a teenage girl, also stressed the importance of having family-friendly films for young girls that portray healthy female friendships.
“I suppose sometimes it's intimidating for me to get to know other girls, and I feel like that's because of the way that [female] friendships ... are portrayed in the media. Sometimes it's such a rivalry, but we're not against each other. Someone else's win is not your loss. We’re all in this together.”
Watch The Christian Post interview Isabela Merced, Marsai Martin and Mckenna Grace
“This was such an amazing film about friendship,” added Martin. “And not only just that, but the relationships with your mother, relationship with your father, relationships with the town that you grew up in versus a town that you belong in.”
Though a lighthearted and often funny family film, “Spirit Untamed” explores deeper issues like grief, suffering, and trust. Because he lost his wife in a horseback riding accident, Lucky’s father is reluctant to allow his daughter around horses — much less befriend a wild mustang. The film expertly explores the tension many parents feel between giving their children freedom and protecting them from perceived harm.
“Jim's and Lucky's emotional arc together became one of my favorite parts of the movie,” Bogan said, adding that her co-director, the father of a 12-year-old girl, “evoked just such an authenticity and realism into that relationship that became something so special.”
“It was important to tell a story that did have those two elements of the protective role of a father, but also the emotional sensitivity enough to understand that this young woman is trying to realize who she is and what she's fully capable of, and she can't do that unless Jim lets go a little bit and trusts her,” she said.
Watch The Christian Post interview Elaine Bogan
The father-daughter storyline between Jim and Lucky “is very representative of a lot of the other themes in the film,” Bogan added.
“Trust became a big theme in our story; it wasn't just in the Lucky-Jim relationship, it was in the Spirit-Lucky relationship. Spirit had to trust the Lucky, and Lucky had to trust Spirit in order for them both to find their way home.”
"Spirit Untamed" is an adaptation of the Netflix animated series "Spirit Riding Free
and is rated PG for “some adventure action.”
Bogan, an avid horseback rider, said the lessons she’s learned from horses over the years gave her the tools to tackle “Spirit Untamed,” her first feature-length animated film.
“The confidence and the calmness and the bravery in order to even just walk up to one of these animals … having access to that kind of emotion in that environment at a young age has, I think, provided me with so many tools to even be sitting here where I am today,” she said.
Through the film, Bogan said she hopes viewers not only appreciate the emphasis on friendships and family bonds but are inspired to pursue their goals and dreams despite obstacles.
“It was a really nice process being able to sit and watch the film and have everyone in the room see little pieces of themselves up there,” she said. “I hope that's what happens in the audience, too, that people come to see this movie, and because they're seeing it up there, they're believing that they can achieve these things too.”
"Spirit Untamed" will be available exclusively in theaters when it releases nationwide on June 4.