To be sure, I don’t belong to the demographic that “Spirit Untamed” is pitched at — I’ve never spent much time with horses, nor have I ever been mistaken for a pre-teen girl — but I’ll be darned if I didn’t have fun with this latest entry, in what I’ve learned is an extensive television and film franchise.
Vividly rendered and containing a sense of enthusiasm that’s infectious, this tribute to girl power energetically hits all of the expected notes in this adventure tale, so much so you’re likely to be surprised that its under-90-minute running time goes by so quickly.
However, before the inspiration can begin, tragedy must ensue, a liberal dose dispensed in the film’s prologue in which young Lucky Prescott (voice by Isabela Merced) witnesses the tragic death of her mother, a trick rider in an equine-based carnival.
Despondent, her father Jim (Jake Gyllenhaal) sends her away to New York City to be raised by her aunt, Cora (Julianne Moore, sounding nothing like Julianne Moore).
This arrangement suits everyone … for a while. As she grows, Lucky’s independent spirit comes to the fore, so much so that it’s decided she needs to spend some time with dear old dad.
So, off she goes, Aunt Cora in tow, to be reunited with her father, a meeting neither of them is prepared for.
And while the reunion is a rocky one, Lucky does manage to bond with the titular stallion, a mustang who’s been captured by a group of cowboys intent on taming him and the members of his equine family.
When Lucky finds out they’re taking the horses by train to an outpost to be sold, she enlists the help of her friends, Abby (Mckenna Grace) and Pru (Marsai Martin), to rescue them.
However, they must cross some treacherous terrain — Heck Mountain and the Ridge of Regret — to do so.
To be sure, the story is told in broad strokes, but it’s done briskly with sincerity and humor.
Moments of slapstick are done effectively and generate actual belly laughs while the action sequences are serviceable, enough to generate a bit of excitement, giving the story some expediency when needed.
However, there’s more than a bit of heart here. The relationship between Lucky and her father is an eternal struggle, one rendered here with a sense of urgency.
Fearing she may meet the same fate as her mother, Jim’s overprotective approach is misinterpreted by his daughter, as she sees it as him having a lack of faith in her.
Complicating matters is Lucky’s stumbling upon mementos belonging to her mom, all of them espousing her skill as a trick rider, each conveying a sense of strength and confidence the girl longs for.
Bolstering this is her more-than-capable friends, Abby and Pru. The girls are self-assured, strong and willingly provide Lucky not simply a model of how to act but encouragement to believe in herself and her dreams.
This is beautifully underscored in the film’s best scene, a moment in which the intrepid trio must cross the Ridge of Regret, Lucky softly singing the movie’s catchy inspirational tune “Fearless” to herself, she and Spirit traversing the crumbling, rocky road before them.
A gentle film, “Spirit Untamed” is the sort of family fare that delivers its message with confidence and style, its theme one that can’t be repeated often enough.
Both girls and boys will likely be entertained while the adults accompanying them will be surprised to find they aren’t as bored as they feared they’d be.