'Spirit Untamed' Is Spirited but Tame Directed by Elaine Bogan and Ennio Torresan, Jr.
Starring Isabela Merced, Jake Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, Marsai Martin, Mckenna Grace, Walton Goggins
Published Jun 03, 2021You're not mistaken: that is your childhood cartoon equine pal Spirit on your screen again. The original DreamWorks feature arrived in the early 2000s, and while you may not have noticed, its story never actually went away. The animation studio inexplicably — and quietly — morphed the film into a Netflix series (Spirit Riding Free) several years ago, and now, the tales from that show have been adapted for a full-lbown animated feature, Spirit Untamed.
Separated by two decades from its source material, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Elaine Bogan and Ennio Torresan, Jr.'s latest iteration has evolved into an entirely new beast. The new film still eschews anthropomorphic character design typical of animal-based kids' movies in favour of more life-like horse behaviour, but it departs from the original by introducing an element of comic relief via its co-lead character, Lucky Prescott (Isabela Merced).
Lucky is a troublemaking young girl who is shipped off to live with her father (Jake Gyllenhaal) after proving too rambunctious to live in view of her 19th-century conservative grandfather's elite constituents. Accompanied by her aunt (Julianne Moore), the young girl takes a train to her family's home out in the American West and immediately develops an interest in riding horses — much like her deceased mother (Eiza González), who died in a tragic horse-riding accident. Her father discourages her from riding, fearing she may meet the same fate as her mother, but Lucky is enraptured by a wild mustang named Spirit who (you guessed it) cannot be tamed. Throw in a gang of evil horse wranglers, and you can see where this is all going.
Predictability aside, the film does touch on some interesting topics. Its titular mustang plays a lesser role than in the 2002 original, making way for our human avatar Lucky as a relatable vessel through which important lessons can be imparted. The young girl is faced with numerous quandaries about friendship, bravery, family, the natural world, and so forth. The goofy, adventurous girl pushes the envelope behaviourally, constantly assuming the role of a proverbial thorn in the side of her family and friends, but finds honest kinship in her horsey pal, who ironically does some of his own taming of her. It's all about as pure as a kids' film can get without being too queasy.
Despite moving into the digital animation realm, Spirit Untamed isn't much more visually advanced than its predecessor — so viewers won't have to rush to IMAX theatres when they can easily get the full experience from home. That said, the neat little picture wears its 80-minute runtime well, cantering through plot points at a comfortable pace while accomplishing what it set out to achieve. And while it reads like a low-budget affair, that certainly shouldn't upset any youngsters in the audience.
Spirit Untamed is an outing that excels, in part, due to its purity and simplicity. The film doesn't challenge any difficult topics (even considering its major plotline involves the death of a parent). Unfortunately, it's that same quality that can also make it sort of forgettable. (Dreamworks)