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Spirit Untamed – Movie Review

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Spirit Untamed – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

In 2002, DreamWorks released one of its last hand-drawn animated films Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. It was an ambitious western film and one that likely appealed very heavily to horse aficionados. Several years later, the studio has returned to the story of this wild horse. First with a Netflix series and now with a new feature film, Spirit Untamed. For the target audience of children with an affection for horses, this will do the job of being a fun adventure. The movie is fairly lightweight and there’s not much to the story, but there is enough likeability in the characters and in the presentation.

Even though Spirit’s name is in the title, the central focus is primarily on the human characters. Spirit Untamed serves as a coming-of-age story for the young protagonist Lucky as she moves to a western town. Even though we have to watch the strained relationship between her and her father Jim, the filmmakers avoid many of the common tropes of this story device. We understand the difficulties both are going through and their points-of-view are understandable. A lesser film would have made one or both parties into unlikeable characters. What’s also nice are the friendships Lucky makes upon arriving at this town. There’s a genuine bond with Prudence and Abigail as they get into adventures together.

The story as a whole isn’t nearly as compelling, but that might depend on the viewers’ interest in horses. If one is largely uninterested in horses, Spirit Untamed isn’t likely to change one’s tune. While he was the centre of attention in the first film, he mostly exists here as a way to move the story forward. It is admittedly difficult to make horses into engaging screen presences and this film doesn’t change that. The villains, a group of horse wranglers, are fairly one-note as is their principal goal of stealing horses. The attempts at humour also underwhelm, although Abigail gets a few funny moments with her excited personality.

The animation, provided by UK-based Jellyfish Pictures, is visually pleasing. The characters are appropriately expressive and director Elaine Bogan helps elevate the various action sequences. What is especially nice to look at are the landscapes as we travel through this wilderness and the skies pop. There is one scene where the artists play with the reflections in the water that’s quite creative. The character designers and animators also succeed in translating Spirit to computer animation and one gets the sense they closely studied James Baxter’s work on Stallion of the Cimarron.

While certainly different from its predecessor, Spirit Untamed is another example of how DreamWorks Animation is a studio that’s not pinned down to doing one kind of movie. Elaine Bogan, who has previously directed a number of DreamWorks television series, understands the material and tone required for this project. One’s enjoyment will just entirely depend on whether they think horses are engaging animals. This is a movie primarily aimed at those with a fascination for them and especially children who enjoy galloping. However, it is refreshing to see a film like this, where young girls help and support each other rather than frequently squabbling as is so often the norm in other movies. Spirit Untamed is a reasonably entertaining film for the target demographic and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE