The summer movie season is here! The latest film from DreamWorks Animation, Spirit Untamed, gallops into theaters this Friday, June 4. It was directed by Elaine Bogan and co-directed by Ennio Torresan Jr. (in their feature film directorial debuts!) and features Isabela Merced, Jake Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, Marsai Martin, Mckenna Grace, Walton Goggins, Eiza González, and Andre Braugher. The feature is based on the Netflix series Spirit Riding Free and is a spin-off of the animated flick Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.
In this adventure movie, Lucky Prescott's life is changed forever when she moves from the city to a small frontier town and befriends a wild mustang named Spirit. Spirit Untamed doesn’t release in theaters until this Friday, June 4, but critics have already started sharing their reviews, so let’s see what they have to say.
Our very own Sarah El-Mahmoud was not very impressed with Spirit Untamed, rating it a two out of five stars. She noted that the animated flick could be fun for the right audience, meaning young kids. But she criticized the adventure movie for being too generic, a story we’ve seen over and over and over again (girl befriends horse, family forbids girl from hanging out with said horse, girl does it anyway). El-Mahmoud argued that the film underutilized its all-star cast and that the visuals are lacking and totally not memorable. She said:
Although it’s one of the few family films coming exclusively to theaters this summer, the animation studio’s latest film is unoriginal, boring and has more of the energy of an afternoon cartoon than a full-blown epic.
Kate Erbland from IndieWire also touched on the somewhat lacking visuals of the animated movie, noting that some look flat. Erbland also criticized the in-cohesive nature of the movie, pointing out that the story could either be cut down or stretched out into a series, which oddly enough, already exists in Riding Free. Erbland said:
Fans of the original film will still find something beautiful underneath, and Riding Free acolytes will likely delight in seeing a splashier take on a story they already love. Everyone else, however, might wonder when they can hope to be set free from this story, just like Spirit.
Yolanda Machado from The Wrap also commented on the design work of Spirit Untamed. She praised production designer Paul Duncan for the vivid backgrounds in the movie, but criticized the work on the actual characters in each scene, noting that the animation becomes a “technological whiplash.” She also highly criticized the script, noting that the attempt to celebrate Lucky’s Latino heritage falls flat with some contradictory choices. Machado said:
Spirit Untamed tries to be everything, and because of that, it fails. It’s a film that’s a bit too juvenile for anyone over the age of 8, but trotting far too slowly to hold the attention of elementary-aged children, leaving parents with just another expensive nap at the movies.
If you can believe it, yet another critic criticized the design work of Spirit Untamed. Peter Debruge of Variety considers this movie’s predecessor, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, superior in terms of visuals, and that movie came out 19 years ago! He said:
We’ve come to expect a certain quality from the studio that produced Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon, and this step backward is a troubling development, undeserving of the DreamWorks name. Also questionable is the decision to adapt the TV series in the first place, especially if there’s no commitment to boosting what came before.
Lovia Gyarkye from The Hollywood Reporter had a bit more positive things to say about Spirit Untamed. Though she had some similar criticisms to the critics above, she enjoyed the film’s focus on the friendship between Lucky and her two friends (played by Grace and Martin), while also appreciating the depth between Lucky and her father. Gyarkye thought the adventure flick was “beautiful to look at and occasionally genuinely funny.” She said:
Ultimately, Spirit Untamed will be a solid Friday-night movie choice for many kids and their parents. But it’s hard not to come away from the movie missing what, in the process of expanding this tale, was left behind.