Directed by: Elaine Bogan and Ennio Torresan
Premise: An animated film. A teenage girl (voice of Isabela Merced) visits her estranged father (voice of Jake Gyllenhaal) in a western frontier town. She befriends a wild mustang and tries to keep the horse from being mistreated by a group of cowboys.
What Works: Spirit Untamed offers a mix of humor and family-friendly adventure centered around some agreeable relationships. The movie centers upon teenage girl Lucky and a wild mustang. Both of them are independent and resist efforts to force conformity; Lucky rebels against her family and the horse refuses to cooperate with the cowboys trying to domesticate it. Their shared independence draws the characters together and the film builds the relationship between the girl and the horse in a way that is credible. Movies that center upon a young character and an animal have a specific appeal. The filmmakers successfully tap into that appeal and Spirit Untamed hits the emotional beats that viewers look for in a movie like this. Lucky also befriends two other young equestrians living in town and each of the young female characters has a distinct personality. This is visualized not only through them but also through their horses; each girl’s horse has a unique look that matches the personality of the rider. The horses of Spirit’s herd are also given distinct looks. The filmmakers add subtle details to each horse that make each animal visually unique and give them some character. Lucky comes to this frontier town to be with her father; her mother is dead and the father has been working on the railroad. The father-daughter subplot plays well as the two of them must get to know each other and come to terms with the memory of the deceased mother. The focus on character gives Spirit Untamed adds humanity to the familiar story and compensates for some of the film’s technical lapses.
What Doesn’t: Spirit Untamed is a mostly average animated adventure. The characterization is done well but the adventure aspects of the film come across almost as an afterthought. This is a familiar tale of a young person befriending an animal and Spirit Untamed follows that narrative template but adds little that is new. The animation of Spirit Untamed is inconsistent. Some shots and sequences look great and others appear shoddy. The texture and detail shifts radically from one moment to the next. A few images are so rough that they appear unfinished.
Bottom Line: Spirit Untamed is a satisfying family adventure. It’s not much more than that and the craftsmanship is rough around the edges, making this more suitable for home viewing than a trip to the theater. But the moviemakers know exactly what kind of story they are telling and Spirit Untamed offers enough laughs and thrills to be a passable piece of entertainment.
Episode: #855 (June 13, 2021)