Review: Audiences won't go wild for 'Spirit Untamed'
Courtesy of Universal/Dreamworks
“Spirit Untamed” is a hazy, loosely connected sequel to 2002’s much sharper and more defined “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” which saw Matt Damon voicing the titular horse except it wasn’t your typical pony show with cartoonish animals speaking in sentences, Damon narrated the action. Since retooled for a long running Netflix series where the animation has gone from crisp 2D to chunky CGI, which makes it look like a direct-to-DVD spinoff, Elaine Bogan and Ennio Torresean’s idle and lackluster sequel (which is more aligned for fans of the series than of its supposed predecessor) will struggle to entertain the target demo and begs the question: Why fork over the cash for something already included in a subscription?
A 90 minute distraction for the tiniest of toddlers who might become enticed by the glossy colors and vibrant scenery - the only good functionality of this lame film - “Spirit Untamed” follows the young and chipper Lucky Prescott (voiced by Isabela Merced of “Dora the Explorer” fame) who is heading home to her estranged father Jim (Jake Gyllenhaal in the randomest of random roles). An opening prologue hints to Lucky’s troubled childhood when her mother, a local performer/horse rider, was killed in a horseback stunt to which Jim shipped her away to live with Aunt Cora (Julianne Moore).
On the train ride over, where the glistening mountside and intoxicating blue skies overshadow the crummy, odd-ball shaped human characters, Lucky locks eyes with Spirit in the wild, open terrain, a stunning yellow mustang who could be strong and valuable for the right buyer. Hence the presence of a gang of wily thieves (their head honcho is voiced by an unrecognizable Walton Goggins doing his best Christian Slater impression) who plot to steal Spirit for a life of hard labor and servitude. Of course, Lucky takes advice from her pals (voiced by McKenna Grace and Marsai Martin) on how to mold a relationship with Spirit but not before trouble inevitably ensues and the trio of young tweens go face to face with Goggins’ unorthodox crew. Meanwhile Jim, not surprisingly, doesn’t want Lucky near any horses in the typical “I can’t lose you too” subplot of the film, because she’ll always live in the shadow of an unforeseen tragedy.
Such lessons of self identity and determination are the core of “Spirit Untamed” which benefits from striking visual aesthetics, but predictable character motivations and choppy voicework. Obviously, I’m not in the aforementioned target demographic, but I suspect children will pick up on the lack thereof of an emotional or comedic payoff. In an era where Pixar and even other Dreamworks counterparts (“How To Train Your Dragon”) are firing on all cylinders, it’s clear “Spirit Untamed” doesn’t intend to set the world on fire, though the screenplay penned by Kristin Hahn, Katherine Nolfi, and Aury Wallington (who created the original series) might have reached for something more wholesome than this unexceptionally boring adventure.
SPIRIT UNTAMED opens in theaters Friday, June 4th