It’s been 14 years since Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron nabbed an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, and now DreamWorks and Netflix are jockeying for the attention of a new generation of kids with Spirit Riding Free, an animated spin-off that will make its US debut on the SVOD giant on May 5.
The six x 22-minute series aimed at girls ages six to 10 takes place in the 19th century. It follows 12-year-old Lucky, whose mother dies and she leaves high society life to live with her dad in the American West. Lucky then bonds with a horse named Spirit, the offspring of the main characters from the 2002 movie.
Showrunner Aury Wallington says that while there are themes tied into the original movie, the new series has its own unique personality.
“When DreamWorks said they wanted to do a show based on the movie, I was really excited by the thought of having the film’s tone and sense of freedom and adventure,” says Wallington, an author and writer whose credits include the Cartoon Network series Tower Prep. “But none of the characters are the same. It’s the next generation from the movie told to the next generation of audiences.”
The series focuses on three central characters, Lucky, Pru and Abigail, and consciously taps into the recent TV trend of depicting strong female characters as seen in shows like Sinking Ship’s Annedroids and Elena of Avalor from Disney.
“The Spirit characters are by no means perfect. They get into trouble, make mistakes, fight with their parents and sometimes they get competitive. But they’re never snarky or bratty,” says Wallington. “I really worked hard to make a show where none of them are mean girls.”
On the licensing front, the show has tapped Just Play to create dolls, play sets, plush and more. And Wallington is particularly enthusiastic about a recent partnership with Breyer, which is creating models of the horses from the show.
“Now I’m going to have Breyer horses of characters that I created, which is just so exciting,” she says.
The series follows in the footsteps of successful projects from Netflix and DreamWorks, like Trollhunters, which just picked up seven Children’s Daytime Emmy nominations and helped Netflix break quarterly sign-up records as the most-watched kids original from the streamer.
“I certainly hope that the show will do wonderfully. I think we’ve made something really special and great, but I also haven’t been paying attention to how other cartoons are doing,” admits Wallington. “I haven’t felt pressured or inspired or intimidated or anything, I watch the other shows and I love them…but they don’t relate to my show.”