Spirit Untamed, 2021.
Directed by Elaine Bogan and Ennio Torresan
Featuring the voice talents of Isabela Merced, Jake Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, Marsai Martin, Mckenna Grace, Eiza González, Walton Goggins, and Andre Braugher.
Lucky Prescott’s life is changed forever when she moves from her home in the city to a small frontier town and befriends a wild mustang named Spirit.
Profound levels of depth to a run-of-the-mill animated feature are not expected. Although, it is odd that Spirit Untamed (which is already a spinoff to Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and saw Matt Damon voicing the inner thoughts of the eponymous horse) is not only based on Netflix’s animated series but essentially a streamlined version of a stretch of that show, now with A-list celebrity voiceover talent. It’s easy to say upfront that Spirit Untamed (this animated feature-length version directed by Elaine Bogan and Ennio Torresan) is rather lame and predictable from an adult perspective (even huge names such as Jake Gyllenhaal barely make an impression, and even when they do, it’s primarily out of boredom and trying to guess the voices heard) but inoffensive and cute for younger viewers encouraging the usual characteristics such as bravery and themes of friendship. The question then becomes, if Spirit Untamed is going to be used as a distraction tool on children, why show them a rushed and most likely inferior product that will be over in 90 minutes when there are nearly ten seasons of animated episodes to throw on.
Thankfully, the younger talent on hand sounds a bit more enthused, as Isabela Merced’s (a reasonably reliable up-and-coming talent impressing in franchises from Transformers to Dora the Explorer) Lucky Prescott is chipper and a combination of excited and nervous to be heading back home to meet her estranged father Jim (Jake Gyllenhaal). The gist is that Lucky’s mother (a brief voiceover performance from Eiza González) was a local hero horse rider but suffered a fatal accident pulling off a trick she had done numerous times before, so broken and distraught, Jim sent her away to live with her aunt Cora (Julianne Moore). Ten years later, that arrangement is up, after Lucky unintentionally makes a fool of her wealthy grandfather.
On the train ride home, she first catches a glimpse of Spirit in the wild, and it’s not long before she’s making friends with kids her age Abigail and Pru (Mckenna Grace and Marsai Martin, respectively), receiving solid advice from them on how to gracefully break and develop a bond with the wild mustang. Of course, Jim fears the worst and is against Lucky going anywhere near horses. The bond between girl and beast is mildly entertaining, whereas the one between father and daughter is relatively nonexistent. As a result, the script from Kristin Hahn, Katherine Nolfi, and original series creator Aury Wallington is bare-bones without much emotional or comedic investment.
That’s partly because a gang of thieves (their leader is voiced by Walton Goggins, another talented performer who sounds lost and bored here) plans to steal the horses for a robbery escape. What ensues is something more dangerous and adventurous that works to express camaraderie between the girls but rarely feels engaging. It also doesn’t help that Spirit Untamed has either been made with a low-budget or that their animated competition is light years ahead of the game. Plenty of environments contain low-resolution textures, and Spirit himself is visually playing and lacking in personality.
Spirit Untamed tells a harmless and straightforward story, but there’s next to nothing noteworthy about it to recommend for children beyond the distraction aspect. It’s low on laughs, emotion, and heart yet doesn’t succumb to some of the worst impulses family-friendly animal features often do. It just exists. The movie itself could stand to be more untamed to resonate.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com