Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is one of DreamWorks Animation’s most beautiful and beloved films. But does new kid on the block Spirit Untamed live up to Spirit’s legacy? Keep reading this Spirit Untamed review to find out!
After her mother died in a horse-riding stunt accident when just a baby, Lucky Prescott (Isabela Merced) spends the majority of her childhood living with her aunt in a big city on the East Coast. But Lucky’s dad (Jake Gyllenhaal) wants to rekindled his relationship with his daughter and decides it’s finally time for Lucky to live with with him, so she packs her bags and heads to a small town in the Wild Wild West. There she encounters a wild stallion named Spirit; however, her father forbids her from interacting with the horse, fearing another accident. The rebellious Lucky ignores his wishes and forms a bond with Spirit, freeing him from the pen where a horse wrangler named Hendricks has kept him. But when Lucky discovers Hendricks’ plan to auction Spirit and his herd, Lucky and her two friends, Abigail Stone (Mckenna Grace) and Pru Granger (Marsai Martin), devise a plan to save the herd from a life of back-breaking work in captivity.
It’s a bit confusing as to where Spirit Untamed is set in the Spirit universe. Set before the events of 2003’s Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, this film isn’t quite a prequel (though featuring the same horse) but is more of a retelling of the spin-off TV series, Spirit Riding Free. While movie debuts of children’s TV properties are nothing new (My Little Pony: The Movie, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies), typically the movies are an extension of the series, much like an extended episode. Spirit Untamed, however, is a Spirit Riding Free origin story, providing an alternate version of how Lucky met Spirit, Abigail, and Pru.
While the TV series makes sense for its target demographic of young girls (and will surely result in girls begging their parents for riding lessons and a room full of Spirit horse figurines), for adult audiences, the film doesn’t have a lot of meat to the bone. The simple plot follows tried-and-true narratives, such as an estranged parent-child relationship, a rebellious daughter, and a human befriending a horse.
Lucky, Abigail, and Pru have fun, amiable personalities, and Lucky is a strong, young leading lady. That being said, Lucky’s friendship with the two frontier girls feels rushed and shallow, as they instantly become BFFs in a matter of minutes after a bonding adventure where the two girls help Lucky get off a runaway Spirit.
The animation is a considerable step up from the show but still feels subpar to the standard we’ve come to expect from DreamWorks’ theatrical releases (which makes sense considering the animation wasn’t done in house in order to keep costs down). But cutting corners doesn’t seem to just be for the animation; it feels like it was done in all aspects of the film, a little here, a little there. And while the final film isn’t offensive or outright bad, it just doesn’t feel as good as it should or could have been.
One of the more interesting aspects of the film revolves around Lucky’s late mother, Milagro (Eiza González). Milagro competed in the escaramuzas charra, a Mexican rodeo event featuring choreographed synchronized female horseback-riding stunt performers. It’s a colorful and beautiful sport, which has been hidden from Lucky as she knows nothing about her mother’s life as a horse performer. Rather than having the trio hop on their horses to try and thwart the bad guys’ train, it would have been much more interesting to see Lucky discover her mother’s past, learn about the sport, and then train to compete in an escaramuzas charra herself.
Despite being the king of the stallions, Spirit himself seems to have lost his wild side we see in the original film, as he’s easily tamed by the inexperienced Lucky. The reason Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron worked so well was because we saw his perspective and saw firsthand his determination to dig in his hooves in against domestication. And while this film is still named after him, Spirit is easily tamed and feels more like a child’s plaything than an important character driving forward the story.
Spirit Untamed is innocent enough but is bland, forgettable, and without the spirit that made Spirit, well, Spirit.
★★★ of 5
Edited by: Kelly Conley