Movie Review: SPIRIT UNTAMED Starring Isabela Merced, Jake Gyllenhaal, Marsai Martin
Spirit: Untamed looks like something you would find on a kids television channel – which is to say young ones will probably enjoy it perfectly fine, but it is nothing beyond forgettable and disappointing for anyone over 10 or so.
When I review a film, I generally base my criticisms on what the film sets out to do. In this case, if you enjoy horses and a generic adventure – this film may be perfectly fine. But the film is mediocre for anyone looking for a great story, breathtaking animation, or extraordinary voice-acting performances.
The film, directed by Elaine Bogan and Ennio Torresan, managed to line up a great cast to deliver the lackluster script (written by the Netflix series showrunner Aury Wallington, Kristin Hahn, and Katherine Nolfi). We follow Isabela Merced (Dora in the fantastic live-action film from 2019) as Lucky Prescott, a girl who lost her mother at a young age while witnessing her death at a horse-riding stunt performance. She grows up with her aunt Cora, played by Julianne Moore, on the east coast – but moves back west to the town of Miradero when she becomes too much to handle. There she is reunited with her father Jim, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who constantly worries about his daughter’s adventurous ways. Along the way she meets two friends, Abigail and Pru, played by Mckenna Grace and Marsai Martin, and a bad guy played by Walton Goggins who wants to aggressively tame wild horses and sell them for profit.
For a major theatrical release from DreamWorks, who has deliver some stunning animated films like the How to Train Your Dragon series, the animation is extremely disappointing here. It truly looks like they handed this story off to interns who had no budget, and turned in the best they could make on restricted resources. I’d expect something like a Thomas the Train animated, straight-to-DVD movie to look like this, but it was distracting for a theatrical release like this. Seeing as the film is a sort of spin-off from the Spirit Netflix series, I could see where the film might seem like a TV show. But also, they could have updated things and made it look much better.
The story is sweet on paper, promoting family-based values and believing in one another. But feels more like an after-school special than an empowering, moving film. The message is there, but it gets buried by a lackluster script and dated animation style. It is often so slow, it more than likely will lose the attention of kids who want to see more excitement.
The voice talent is completely wasted here. With such a good cast, it’s a shame they didn’t have better material to work with. We’ve seen most of these actors do excellent work, and know they are capable of turning in a great performance. But there was no reason to have a cast like this here to deliver such mediocre work.
In the end, the story may touch a very specific demographic of young kids who love horses, but there isn’t enough to enjoy or even look at to keep most youngsters entertained. When it comes to teens and adults, the film is lacking anything to keep them invested. Don’t expect this one to be remembered a year from now, nonetheless in a few months.