Film Review: Spirit Untamed
Directors: Elaine Bogan and Ennio Torresan, Jr.
In Theaters: 06.04
The summer movie season is never complete without animated family films. Since Disney-Pixar’s big release will be exclusive to streaming, DreamWorks’ Spirit Untamed is one of biggest theatrical animated movies coming from a major studio.
Spirit Untamed is a spinoff rather than a direct sequel to the 2002 feature Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and is actually a reimagining of the Netflix series Spirit: Riding Free. Lucky Prescott (voiced by Isabela Merced, Dora and the Lost City of Gold) is the daughter of the late Milagro Navarro, a fearless horse-riding stunt performer whose life was cut short by a tragic accident during a performance. Lucky has grown up in an East Coast city under the watchful eye of her Aunt Cora (Academy Award winner Juilanne Moore). But when Lucky presses her own luck with one too many risky escapades, Cora pulls up stakes and moves them both back with Lucky’s father, Jim (Jake Gyllenhaal), in the border town of Miradero.
Lucky is decidedly unimpressed with the sleepy little town. However, she has a change of heart when she meets Spirit, a wild Mustang who shares her independent ideology, and befriends two local horseback riders, Abigail Stone (McKenna Grace, Troop Zero) and Pru Granger (Marsai Martin, Black-ish). The latter’s father, stable owner Al Granger (Andre Braugher, Brooklyn 99), is the best friend of Lucky’s father. When an evil horse wrangler and his team plan to capture Spirit and his herd and auction them off to a life of captivity and hard labor, Lucky enlists her new friends and bravely embarks on the adventure of a lifetime to rescue the horse who has given her freedom, a sense of purpose and has helped her discover a connection to her mother’s legacy that she never expected.
Co-directors Elaine Bogan (Trollhunters) and Ennio Torresan, Jr. give Spirit Untamed a good deal of cinematic flair, which makes it easy to accept the stylized animation that’s somewhere between high-end-streaming kiddie fare and a large-scale theatrical feature. Stallion of the Cimarron was one of the last hurrahs of the age of top-of-the-line, painstakingly hand-drawn studio releases, and the trailers for Spirit Untamed first had me expecting it to suffer in comparison. But, the characters are lively and endearing, the story is a fun adventure and I quickly found myself appreciating the movie for what it is rather than being bothered by what it isn’t.
The impressive voice cast certainly helps, as does the score by Amie Doherty (Happiest Season, The High Note). The script by series creator Aury Wallington and Kristin Hahn (Stargirl) is cute and charming, and it’s easy to get swept up in it. My five-year-old nephew, Timmy, was so enthralled by it that we ended up watching it twice, and I’ll freely admit that it gave me a strong attachment to the movie that makes me inclined to go easy on any imperfections, and I’m in no way apologizing for that fact. Nevertheless, his recommendation really should count at least as much as mine does for a movie like this one, and the fact that we had a great time together means it did exactly what it was meant to do.
Spirit Untamed was a real treat for my inner child, whom I had already let down when I made the mistake of taking him with me to see Cruella, which traumatized him and made him wet the bed for a year. Is Spirit Untamed film animation at its very best? No. Is it very likely that Luca will come along in a few weeks and make it pale a bit in comparison? Sure it will, but where Pixar aims to please everyone, there’s nothing wrong with a movie that’s aimed more specifically at the 5–9-year-old age range, especially when it’s this lovable. If you want an enjoyable experience that will please your children and won’t make you stare at your watch the whole time, climb into the saddle and get ready for a pleasant and satisfying ride. –Patrick Gibbs