spirit riding free

It didn’t take us long to get to this point, when streaming and theatrical transformed into a metaphorical ouroboros eating its own tail. DreamWorks has achieved that feat with its announcement of a Spirit Riding Free movie, based on the successful Netflix series of the same name, itself based on the 2002 DreamWorks theatrical movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Yes, you read that right.

Variety reports that DreamWorks has set the release dates for two animated movies in 2021, including Spirit Riding Free on May 14, 2021 and heist movie The Bad Guys based on Aaron Blabey’s best-selling book series on September 17, 2021. But it’s the news about a Spirit Riding Free movie that is so peculiar, considering it’s a sequel based on a Netflix TV series spun-off from a DreamWorks film.

The 2002 Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron was a critical and commercial hit, earning an Oscar nod for best animated feature and raking in $122 million at the global box office. It was one of DreamWorks’ last hand-drawn animated hits, and featured a beautiful blend of 2D and CG animation. The film, which followed a wild horse in the American West who is captured by the United States Cavalry during the American Indian Wars, was a surprisingly moving and gorgeously animated epic whose score was a strange blend of Hans Zimmer at his best and Bryan Adams pop songs. (Though I still know the words to half the Bryan Adams tracks in this movie, don’t judge me.)

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron remains one of DreamWorks most underrated animated films, but it fell by the wayside as the studio shifted into exclusively CG-animated family hits. That is, until DreamWorks saw profit by turning one of its most lauded animated films into…a Netflix series.

Spirit Riding Free has been running for eight (!) seasons on Netflix since it debuted in 2017, and though I’d never heard of it before despite owning my own beat-up VHS copy of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, it has apparently become enough of a success for DreamWorks’ theatrical wing to take notice. Now Spirit Riding Free is becoming what I can only assume to be a diluted sequel of the magnificent 2002 epic that inspired it. While it has How to Train Your Dragon co-producer Karen Foster producing it and Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia director Elaine Bogan helming, I can’t say I have much faith in DreamWorks to deliver more than hollow copies of its greatest hits in the near future. Which is a shame, because I was hoping that How to Train Your Dragon would signal a brighter, more creative future for the animation studio. But it seems like they have a long way to go.

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