‘Spirit Untamed’ review: a sweet and light entry into a lively franchise

Almost two decades after the first film and at the heart of a surprising series, the wild Mustang is back for more of the same.

When “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” hit theaters in the summer of 2002 – after an out-of-competition premiere at Cannes, no less – the DreamWorks animated adventure didn’t necessarily look set to launch a sprawling, decades-long franchise. It was mostly well received, some critics heralded it as a new classic while others were shocked at some of its more predictable elements, and it grossed a very respectful $ 122 million at the box office. global. A mix of computer animation and traditional hand drawn styles, the story of a free-spirited Mustang (voiced, and that’s right, by Matt Damon) and the Lakota Native American who helps save it offered a classic fable with a certain avant-garde. ideas, and was also just plain pleasing to the eye.

Fifteen years later, the film – which literally ends with its equine hero riding the sunset, the point of the whole movie – inspired a bizarre follow-up: a computer-animated Netflix series about a brave young girl who befriends her. friendship with a wild mustang named Spirit. and basically folds it into his (domestic!) life on the American border. The series, titled “Spirit Riding Free”, is gearing up for its ninth season, not to mention the specials, spinoff series and short form selections that have accompanied it. Either way, there’s even more: Elaine Bogan’s sweet, albeit light-hearted animated feature, “Spirit Untamed,” which awkwardly reworks the “Riding Free” story into one. easily digestible 88-minute package.

In “Spirit Untamed,” writers Aury Wallington and Kristin Hahn condense the long-running series into what essentially functions as an introduction to a show that already has eight seasons to its name. It’s a strange next step for the strangely enduring franchise, if only because the audience members who are likely to be most drawn to “Spirit Untamed” have likely consumed much of “Spirit Riding Free” by now. Driven by a star-powered voice overhaul – no, Matt Damon isn’t reprising his role, but Jake Gyllenhaal and Julianne Moore are on deck as adults, and young stars come to life thanks to the stellar work of Isabela Merced, Marsai Martin, and Mckenna Grace – and a handful of breathtaking footage, the movie still can’t compare to the one that kicked off this franchise, but families could do a lot worse when it comes to healthy entertainment.

“Untamed Spirit”

Universal Images

Like most animated adventures about cute children and their animal friends, “Spirit Untamed” opens with grief and death, as young Fortuna (best known by the more anglicized “Lucky”) Prescott (voiced by Merced). ) and his gentle dad Jim (Gyllenhaal) ooh and ahh on his horse riding mom, who soon dies offscreen. Years later, the brave Lucky spent her childhood growing up under the watchful eye of her Aunt Cora (Moore), who stepped in after Jim was heartbroken to babysit her child.

Lucky is a magnet for adventure and mischief, although she spends most of her time trying to enchant the local wildlife, as her secluded life has mostly kept her away from other children. Unlike its predecessor, “Spirit Untamed” is entirely computer-animated, and while sequences involving horses and the outdoors tend to fare better, the early tracks that follow the human characters in the film tend to have it. air flat and decidedly unemotional. (Everyone, even a miniature donkey who appears throughout the film for serious comedic relief, appears to be in possession of an uncomfortably wide forehead; our eventual villain, obviously voiced by Walton Goggins, also has a big chin.)

After Lucky upsets her grandfather’s gubernatorial candidacy – a subplot never mentioned again – she and Cora are excited to spend the summer with Jim in the charming border town of Miradero, where Lucky will suddenly be confronted. to his mother’s inheritance. Everyone in town, it seems, knows Lucky, and although Jim wants to prevent her from becoming a bona fide girl like her mother, she doesn’t, not with horses everywhere and friends. who love horses so eager to get to know him. There’s Pru (Martin) and silly Abigail (Grace), and soon there’s a kidnapped wild mustang named Spirit who Lucky thinks he can make out of his own loyal horse.

“Untamed Spirt”

Universal Images

In the grand tradition of animal-oriented children’s films, it’s deeply upsetting at times, especially as the girls grapple with the real spirit of the story: that wild animals deserve to be wild. The trio bond just as Spirit’s family (including, of course, a tiny little colt clearly meant to pull the sensitive ropes, it works, damn it) are rounded up and packed on a train at its destination, well, nowhere. Well. Soon they embark on an adventure that helps dilute the episodic feel that plagues the rest of the film, focusing the plot on a big, big journey that builds on the best bits of “Spirit Untamed”.

Still, it’s a business that feels mostly endless, an unwieldy story that needs to either be reduced to its most cohesive parts and most striking sequences, or span over, well, maybe. not be eight seasons of a show, but something like it. Fans of the original film will always find something beautiful underneath, and the “Riding Free” sidekicks will likely be excited to see a brighter version of a story they already love. Everyone else, however, might be wondering when they can hope to be freed from this story, just like Spirit.

Quality: C +

Universal Pictures will release “Spirit Untamed” in theaters on Friday, June 4.

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