Back in 2002, DreamWorks released an animated film called "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron". It was the story of a stallion who was taken from his home by the US Army and goes through many hurdles trying to reunite with his herd in the Western wilderness. I had never seen the film until recently and I was completely blown away by how spectacular the film was. Personally, I think the film stands among DreamWorks' best-animated films and also might be one of their most underrated animated films in their diverse catalog with its gorgeous visuals and smart storytelling with the film heavily relying on visual storytelling. A few years ago, DreamWorks eventually took that film as inspiration for a Netflix spinoff series called "Spirit Riding Free" and now that show has led to a new film with the titular horse called "Spirit Untamed". As someone who hasn't seen the original animated show, I can't comment on how it lives up to the TV show and whether or not the fans will like it though will say that as a film, it's not that good. I don't like saying that because I love DreamWorks so much, but this film left very little for me.
After an incident with her grandfather in an Eastern city, a young girl named Lucky Prescott (Isabela Merced) moves to the western town Miradero with her Aunt Cora (Julianne Moore) to live with her father Jim (Jake Gyllenhaal) whom she barely knew after the death of her mother. At first, Lucky is unimpressed with the town until some bandits led by their leader named Hendricks (Walton Goggins) ropes in a wild stallion who they try to tame. Lucky is entranced by the horse who she names Spirit and eventually sets him free to return to his herd. After leading him back to his herd, Lucky witnesses Hendricks and his bandits' rope Spirit's herd onto a train to be sold off and is desperate to free them. Along with her new friends Pru (Marsai Martin) and Abigail (Mckenna Grace), Lucky and Spirit set off to save Spirit's herd and stop the bandits.
While watching this film in the theater, I was constantly wondering how a film like this could leave me feeling very little. I didn't go into this film with much expectation, but even I was shocked by how little this film left for me. It's such an empty and soulless animated film and it feels rather sad knowing that it came from DreamWorks who has made many animated masterpieces over the years. I obviously wasn't the target demographic for this film, but even then I knew I had seen better. The biggest problem with this film is easily the story. The film feels like it's on autopilot going through all beats and moments that I expected from a story like this and it all amounted to a film that had no surprises or no moments that stood out. The screenplay also has so many moments of dialogue that felt cut and pasted from other better films with the story of a character trying to help an animal from bandits and show her family that they could stand their ground. This film reminded me a lot of the first "How to Train Your Dragon", especially with the way Lucky and Spirit interact with each other reminding me of Hiccup and Toothless. However, the bond that Lucky and Spirit have doesn't feel earned because the story is on constant move and doesn't seem to slow down, especially when it came to the big act break where the three girls go off to save the horses. The girls constantly talk about how they have to take on challenges like passing through a mountain called Heck Mountain (yes, really) and also a deadly ravine, but it doesn't truly show the girls really taking on these challenges like it should and their development feels rather unearned. Even the climax at the end left me feeling rather unimpressed as the girls took on the villains too easily and by the end made me feel rather empty. The characters are the second biggest problem with the film. For one, I felt that Lucky Prescott was a weak female protagonist. She doesn't really have a lot of growth and most of her development happens all too quickly in the first act where she accepts the new city right after she meets Spirit and also didn't share too much chemistry with Pru and Abigail and never got to really connect with these characters while also making the challenges feel all too easy without realizing the danger of she was going up against. Her personality is also lackluster as she's fun, rebellious, and free-spirited but doesn't have anything unique that makes her stand out from any other animated female protagonist. The only conflict she has is with her Aunt for not wanting to do things constantly and her father for not wanting to be sheltered and kept safe at all times, but the development between them is resolved all too quickly and feels rather unearned. In a year that gave us great female animated protagonists like Raya and Katie Mitchell, Lucky sadly blends into the background. I also thought that Aunt Cora and Jim are one-dimensional with the former being too nitpicky and the latter being too overprotective, the two girls Pru and Abigail not having unique traits, and Hendricks a boring villain whose motivations became confusing as the film went along. The one character that was able to still work though was Spirit. He still has the charm he had from the first film with his rebellious energy and fun personality and had some fun moments, even if they reminded me a bit more of Toothless than Spirit. Nevertheless, he was still fun to watch. I also thought the animation was not that bad. The horse animation is alright and the fur looked okay, and the landscapes looked very good with the budget they had. I do think the human animation could've been a bit better, but given the film's budget, I do think they did their best with the budget they had.
Overall though, "Spirit Untamed" is not an impressive animated film. While its animation is not bad for its budget, the story is lackluster and feels messy and the characters are one noted and lack personality. This is not a film I would recommend seeing. I think very young children will enjoy this film fine enough but that's as far as I'll go. Instead, I'd recommend watching the original film. That film is truly spectacular. This film, on the other hand, is sadly rather tame.