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The story of one’s unique bond with a wild horse is no longer unique. We know it via the classic Black Beauty story, Seabiscuit, Dreamer, Hidalgo, War Horse, and more. They tackle powerful themes of taking down the saddle of the human world and tapping into a journey that is as graceful and dynamic as the stallions themselves. Back in 2002, Dreamworks reimagined this kind of narrative beautifully with Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and now, for the first time since, the animation studio has finally brought the mustang back to the big screen. Sadly, the franchise has been significantly downgraded with Spirit Untamed.
Admittedly the new movie is not a direct sequel to the original, but an offshoot of the Netflix series Spirit Riding Free. And it feels like it. Although it’s one of the few family films coming exclusive 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. That being said, at a young enough age, it may effectively inspire adventure and enjoyment.
Spirit Untamed‘s story is generic and uninspired.
Dreamworks’ Spirit Untamed follows a young girl by the name of Lucky Prescott (voiced by the live-action Dora the Explorer’s Isabela Merced), who moves away from her home in the city to a small frontier town with her estranged father (Jake Gyllenhaal) alongside her Aunt Cora (Julianne Moore). It’s there that she comes across a horse she names Spirit and befriends him. Since a family tragedy occurred involving a horse, Lucky is forbidden from hanging out with the wild stallion, but as the tired storyline goes, she does it anyway.
As you can likely tell from the brief synopsis, you’ve seen this movie already. Again, and again. It’s a classic storyline that has been dressed up many different ways over the years, but hey, if it's compelling enough it can work and be rewarding, right? In this case, it comes off as predictable and one-note. Story-wise, Spirit Untamed offers its all-star cast (also including Eiza González and Mckenna Grace) little to work with and underutilizes the studio’s ability to provide memorable visuals as well.
Young viewers may latch onto Lucky’s empowering adventure, but it’s not made with all audiences in mind.
The disconnect here is Spirit Untamed feels like the kind of movie you’d see playing in daycare. And that’s okay... for the right audience. This could end up being one young girl’s favorite movie and inspire her to get into horses, ask her parents about her heritage, and even keep her on the edge of her seat the entire time. As a kid, the way we look at movies and see it attached to our identities is often serendipitous and could very well be a child's first introduction to the storyline this reviewer finds familiar.
Lucky’s adventure has sweet intentions to bring to life a young character embracing her Latin roots and forming a trio of female friends to ride horses with. It’s a film about friendship and bravery that is wholesome as can be. But the adults who ride along will likely be mentally tapping out because it’s just not engaging enough to hold an adult audience. It’s a babysitter film, when DreamWorks, Disney Animation, Pixar and so forth have all shown before that family movies like this can be for everyone and include all age groups if they'd like to.
Spirit Untamed is a massive downgrade from Dreamworks’ original Spirit.
The worst offense of all is how badly it looks in comparison to Spirit’s first film from almost 20 years ago. The original film was more captivating for its choice to make the movie from the stallion’s perspective throughout a horse’s life that included being captured by men and then freed. It was groundbreaking for its inclusion of the Native American community and beautifully weaved its soundtrack with its impressive hand drawn animation that swiftly galloped across the screen. Spirit Untamed takes the legacy of the character and cheapens it into a movie that is the textbook definition of tame.
It claims to tell a story about rebellion and freedom, but it completely confines the character of Spirit in a fenced box to walk in circles in.