Review by Sean Boelman
DreamWorks’s Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron may be one of the ballsiest animated films in existence: how often do you see a kiddie Western about a sentient horse told through an inner monologue from Matt Damon and accompanied by a soundtrack of power ballads? On the other hand, the reboot Spirit Untamed is disappointingly uninspired, a “girl and her horse” movie designed to revitalize an IP that no one was particularly passionate about in the first place.
The film follows a young girl, the daughter of a stunt rider, who moves from her big city lifestyle to live in a railroad town where she forms an unlikely friendship with a wild stallion. And while youngsters will love getting to see this girl bond with her equine friend, their older counterparts will likely have tired by now of seeing fish-out-of-water stories in which a youth comes to an epiphany with the aid of an animal companion.
Even though the movie is under ninety minutes in length, it drags by, as if the writers took the beats of a typically sub-thirty-minute episode of the Netflix series Spirit Riding Free and attempted to stretch it out into feature length. It takes a long time for things to get moving, and by the time it feels like the action is really getting started, the credits are about ready to roll.
The thing that made the original Spirit really stand out was its wonderful environmentalist message, and while there is still some of that here with a subplot about a horse wrangler trying to capture the eponymous stallion, the main moral of the story here revolves around being yourself. And really, this is the same thing that has been said by movies time and time again.
There are some interesting ideas within the film about the protagonist’s Mexican heritage, but these are largely left unexplored. What’s left is a generic family dynamic that offers some heartfelt moments and not much else. And as for Spirit himself, he is a secondary character in his own movie to his human co-star.
Perhaps most disappointing is the fact that the voice cast of the movie is absolutely amazing but underutilized. As the three child characters, Isabela Merced, Marsai Martin, and Mckenna Grace give performances that are indistinguishable from what would have been given by any young voice actor off the street. Adult stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, Andre Braugher, and Walton Goggins are more distinctive in their roles, but not used much better.
The animation of the film is also rather lacking compared to most DreamWorks theatrical releases. It honestly looks slightly better than what one would associate with a straight-to-DVD sequel from the early 2000s, which makes it surprising that this was intended for a theatrical release all along and isn’t just a case of opportunism amidst thinner releases due to the pandemic.
Spirit Untamed is a remarkably unremarkable family movie that takes an IP few were clamoring to see again and turns it into a movie even fewer will see. There isn’t anything odious about it whatsoever, but it fails to impress in any shape or form.
Spirit Untamed hits theaters on June 4.