It’s been 20 years since “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” first galloped into movie theaters. It was only a moderate hit, but it was memorable enough to inspire a Netflix series, several specials and finally, a second movie.
“Spirit Untamed” doesn’t quite gallop into theaters like the first film did, but it trots nicely enough to entertain any undemanding young cowgirls in the audience.
The story reworks many of the same themes found in the Netflix series. Set in the days of the Wild West, a free-spirited young girl named Lucky (Isabela Merced) is sent to the border town of Miradero to spend the summer with her widowed father (Jake Gyllenhaal). She quickly makes two friends (Marsai Martin and Mckenna Grace) but her deepest connection will be with a wild stallion named Spirit.
Spirit isn’t one of those talking animals found in many animated family films, so it takes a while for the girl and the horse to form a bond. They do eventually learn to trust each other, which comes in handy when horse rustlers steal the heard and it’s up to Lucky, Spirit and her gal pals to ride off to the rescue.
That might have made for an exciting adventure, but things never get too perilous. The film is aimed squarely at 10-year-old girls, after all. The most dangerous part is when the girls must cross a perilous mountain named “Mount Heck” (because Mount Doody Head would be too on the nose) with nothing but their trusty steeds and a knapsack full of marshmallows.
Suffice it to say, this is a very mild adventure.
Perhaps that’s part of the problem here. Lucky and her friends don’t have to master any real danger, so the big payoff doesn’t have much of an impact. It’s as if the filmmakers were so worried about scaring the kids that they didn’t give the film any real stakes. The end result is a bloodless story that never rises to the point where it might actually evoke an emotional response.
The character design is also a bit suspect. The fact that Lucky, who is of Mexican heritage, befriends an African-American and a White girl seems like a ploy to make sure the film will have something for all audiences, rather than something that ever means anything within the context of the film.
It’s a bit of a shame because the animation is quite nice, with shots of the horses running free being particularly impressive. The voice acting is also quite good, especially considering the age of the young talent involved. The problem is that “Spirit Untamed” wants to play it safe, so the movie becomes a bland adventure rather than something that will be remembered 20 years from now.