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Spirit Untamed
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Horse Things."
2 stars

I must confess that my memories of the 2002 film “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” are fairly hazy at best but that it at least made an effort to try to do something different from the other animated films of the time—it eschewed the rage for CGI animation by going the traditional route and while the heroic horse at the center was voiced by Matt Damon, that voice was only meant for us to hear his innermost thoughts as this was not a talking animal film. If I didn’t care for it that much, that probably has more to do with my general disinterest in horse-based narratives (with the exceptions of “The Black Stallion” and “A Day at the Races,” of course) that with the film itself (though I could have lived without the Bryan Adams songs on the soundtrack) and if I had to put it up against the other animated output by Dreamworks, I would certainly take it over most to all of the “Shrek” films. The film was not a success in theaters but fifteen years later, Dreamworks elected to reboot it in 2017 with the television series “Spirit: Riding Free” and has now brought that show to the big screen with “Spirit Untamed,” a film that evidently retells the origin story of that show with slightly better animation, more familiar names among the voice cast and little in the way of anything resembling genuine imagination or originality.

The movie certainly starts on a bleak note as toddler Lucky loses her trick rider mother (Eiza Gonzalez) in a horrible accident in the middle of a performance and her distraught father, Jim (Jake Gyllenhaal) sends her away to live with his sister Cora (Julianne Moore). Ten years pass and the extremely spirited Lucky (Isabel Merced), having inadvertently made a mess of her rich grandfather’s political debut, is sent, along with Aunt Cora, to spend the summer in the country with Jim in order to keep out of trouble. Once she arrives, she makes a couple of quick friends in Pru (Marsai Martin) and Abigail (McKenna Grace) and tries to develop a relationship with the guilt-ridden father that she hardly knows but her strongest connection comes when she encounters and instantly befriends a wild stallion known as Spirit. Alas, unscrupulous horse wrangler Hendricks (Walton Goggins) also has his eye on Spirit with a plan to capture and sell the horse’s entire family. Of course, Jim wants Lucky to have nothing to do with any horses but the determined girl, along with her friends, set out on a perilous mission to rescue the horses and save the day.

“Spirit Untamed” makes for a refreshing change in at least one area with the decision to center the story around a young girl and to stress her friendships with the other two girls. Unfortunately, that proves to be the only real point of actual interest that the film has to offer. The storyline is pretty trite and predictable and the potentially interesting aspect of seeing a family attempting to finally put their great trauma behind them is raised only briefly before being abandoned entirely. Both the melodramatic and slapstick elements on display are presented with the heaviest of hands and while younger viewers will perhaps not mind that so much, older viewers may grow weary with the lack of subtlety. Visually, the film is perfectly adequate but not much more—the CGI approach used this time around is bright and colorful enough but there is nothing especially distinctive about any of it.

In the end, “Spirit Untamed” is little more than a cinematic babysitter that has little more on its mind than to keep kids occupied for 90 minutes or so with its combination of action, goofy comedy and horses. In that regard, I suppose it can probably be considered at least a semi-success, though more astute viewers who are familiar with the series may be wondering why the film is a rehash of previously seen events instead of a true continuation of what came before. What it lacks, however, is any real spark of ingenuity that might have helped it to truly stand out in the crowd and, more importantly, stick in the minds of viewers. Instead, “Spirit Untamed” feels more like the result of a deal memo instead of a desire to tell a real story and while the execution is competent enough, even those with a fondness for equine-based narratives are like to find this one to be eminently forgettable

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=34440&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/03/21 22:19:24
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USA
  04-Jun-2021 (PG)

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