Spirit Untamed Synopsis: After moving to a sleepy little town, young Lucky Prescott (Isabela Merced) befriends a wild mustang named Spirit, who shares her rebellious spirit. When a heartless wrangler plans to capture Spirit and his herd, Lucky and her new friends embark on the adventure of a lifetime to rescue the horse that forever changed her life.
Amidst a wave of popular hits like Shrek and Shark Tale, Dreamworks crafted the meditative horse drama Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Spirit was a welcomed detour from family film’s typical delivery, foregoing any goofy comedic bits and overly-kiddy elements to tell a soulful and sincere story. Several animated films insert the perspective of lively animal creatures, but few have skillfully captured animal’s communal spirits and boundless hearts like Spirit. The film would go on to be a modest success financially and critically (it gained a Best Animated Feature Oscar nod), spawning its own Netflix series Spirit: Riding Free in the process.
After nearly two decades away from the big-screen, Spirit has been reimagined in the sequel/spin-off Spirit Untamed. Trading in the original’s free-flowing 2D animation for the conformity of 3D animation, Untamed strays away from the original’s good-natured spirit without any thoughtful wrinkles to offer in its place. It’s an incredibly competent effort, one that sadly flatlines from its lack of meaningful ingenuity.
Spirit Untamed isn’t entirely joyless. Shifting the perspective from the horse to a spirited young girl has promise, with both characters sharing a kindred bond through their lively penchant for adventure and life’s naturalistic joys. The film operates at its best when centered around Lucky and Spirit’s non-verbal dynamic, striking enough genuine moments of bonding to reinvigorate its formulaic origins. A well-curated voice cast also elevates the familiarity, with Marsai Martin, Mckenna Grace, and Jake Gyllenhaal imbuing enough enthusiasm in their archetypal roles.
However, fans of the 2002 original will largely be left bewildered and disappointed by this modern reimagining. I understand where studios have to play ball with kid’s playful sensibilities, but it seems much of Spirit Untamed performs the bare minimum for its target demographic. The serene gentility of the original is traded out for a boisterous business, with writers Katherine Nolfi and Kristin Hahn keeping the breathless pace going through a series of action-packed frames. Even with daring chases and death-defying stunts, very little of Untamed garners significant interest. It’s a letdown to see this reboot completely strip away what made the original film so noteworthy (the 3D animation is also a marketed step down from its graceful 2D counterpart).
All would be forgiven if Untamed didn’t reek with a cynical manufactured streak. From the generic plotting (it’s your typical distant father-daughter relationship) to flat crowd-pleasing moments, the film sticks to a far too regimented playbook. The 88-minute runtime rarely leaves room for boredom, but none of the character dynamics have the time or dimension to draw a noteworthy impression. There’s very little to distinguish this wayward reboot from any typical family offering on streaming services.
Spirit Untamed‘s banal delivery does little to reinvent the majestic stallion for modern audiences. If families are looking for a family film to check out, just watch the 2002 original instead.
Spirit Untamed debuts in theaters nationwide on June 4th.
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