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"SPIRIT UNTAMED"
(2021) (voices of Isabel Merced, Julianne Moore) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Computer-Animated Drama/Adventure: Shipped off to live with her father who she barely knows or remembers, a girl sets out with her new friends to rescue and free a group of wild horses from Old West outlaws.
PLOT:

Lucky Prescott (ISABEL MERCED) is a girl whose mother died in a horse-riding stunt when she was just a baby, causing her grief-stricken father, Jim (JAKE GYLLENHAAL), to send Lucky off to live and be raised by her grandfather and aunt, Cora (JULIANNE MOORE). But when Lucky inadvertently makes a spectacle of her grandfather's gubernatorial campaign launch event, he sends her and Cora off to stay with Jim.

On the train ride to the small western town of Miradero, Lucky spots the wild stallion Spirit running alongside the train and is entranced by the horse and his herd. As is outlaw Hendricks (WALTON GOGGINS) and his gang who decide to capture the horses, break them, and sell them off.

Once in town, Lucky quickly makes friends with fellow girls Prudence Granger (MARSAI MARTIN) and Abigail Stone (McKENNA GRACE), but doesn't bond with her father who she really doesn't know. It also doesn't help that based on what happened before, he forbids his daughter from having anything to do with Spirit who's now held in a nearby corral. But after learning about the Hendricks gang's plan, Lucky, Prudence, and Abigail set out to rescue and free the horses.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10

I'm no expert on horses -- far from it, to be perfectly clear -- but I know from watching TV shows and movies that wild ones need to be broken, that is if one wants to ride or otherwise use them for work purposes. It's sort of a weird term if you think about it -- after all, who wants to break something new that they've come into possession of -- but doing so actually subdues such horses' spirits. And once that's done, most of those broken horses end up tame and fairly bland.

With that in mind, I'm thinking someone must have broken the new animated horse film "Spirit Untamed" because, well, it's fairly bland and tame, notwithstanding some moments of peril that could impact young viewers along with their questions of "What's going to happen to the horses?"

As helmed by co-directors Elaine Bogan and Ennio Torresan who work from a script by Aury Wallington and Kristin Hahn, the film is based on the 2002 feature film "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" (which got a good grade from yours truly) and the TV series "Spirit Riding Free" that debuted on Netflix in 2017. As I haven't seen the latter, I can't comment on how the film ties into that show, but I can say that it comes off as a different beast than the earlier movie.

For starters, it's done via computer animation vs. the hand-drawn work done nearly twenty years ago. Beyond the different visual approach, however, it's the way the title character is portrayed that's most striking for those who haven't seen the TV series. In the earlier film, Spirit the horse was the central figure and we heard his internal thoughts on the fallout of Manifest Destiny via the voice-over work of Matt Damon.

Thus, the horse had character. Here, it's just a wild animal that reacts as one would expect when a small group of men round up and try to break him. That said, it does manage to connect -- although it's never explained how or why -- to a girl -- who turns out to be the film's protagonist -- while running alongside the train carrying her.

She's Lucky Prescott (voiced by Isabela Merced) who's sent out West with her aunt Cora (Julianne Moore) after the former ruins her grandfather's kickoff to his gubernatorial campaign. Lucky has lived with him for the past decade because her father, Jim (Jake Gyllenhaal), couldn't handle witnessing his wife die while doing a horse-related stunt, and thus sent his baby girl away.

She doesn't know him and really doesn't remember much about him, and thus bucks not only at him suddenly becoming her father figure but also when he forbids her from having anything to do with Spirit. Thus, when she learns that Hendricks (Walton Goggins) and his men plan on breaking Spirit and catching his mares to do the same, she sets out with her new girl-power friends, Pru (Marsai Martin) and Abigail (Mckenna Grace), to save the day.

Or at least the horses. There are some moments of action and peril, but there really isn't much to the story to keep adults engaged for its nearly 90-minute runtime. And the animation - while featuring nice-looking backgrounds - is more in line of that of a TV show rather than the big-screen variety when it comes to the look of the characters and horses.

That said, kids -- and especially girls -- might be entranced seeing other such kids up on the screen in the still somewhat unusual position and role of being the heroes. And there's certainly something positive and affirming about that. I just wish the flick had more spirit and wildness to it to have a similar effect on adults like the best animated films usually manage to do. "Spirit Untamed" feels too tame and thus rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed May 21, 2021 / Posted June 4, 2021


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