Cute animated feature is galloping more for kids than adults.
When “Shrek” came out 20 years ago, Roger Ebert explained how as kids and teens get older that they expect animated movies and shows to be more fearless and more adult-oriented. Even he had a soft spot for those who just kid-oriented. I’ve had my share of that before, and depending on how the movies presents them, I’ve developed soft spots for them, while wanting for elements adults can relate to. When you’re a child, you’re learning about movies, and when you get older, you realize you want to see animated movies evolve.
“Spirit Untamed” is an animated feature from Dreamworks Animation that serves as both a reboot of the Netflix animated series “Spirit Riding Free” and the sequel to the 2002 traditionally animated feature “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.” This is one of those cases in which I’m in the middle on animated features that are made more for kids than adults. It has a sweetness inside, some talented voice actors (most of whom are making their animated debuts), and it has a goofy charm for its targeted audience, but as a young adult, I was expecting more out of it. I wanted it to be wiser and more patient and consistent.
The story introduces us to Lucky Prescott (voiced by Isabela Merced), whose horse-riding stunt performer mother (voiced by Eiza Gonzalez) dies in an accident, and has been living with her Aunt Cora (voiced by Julianne Moore), while her father Jim (voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal) griefs. The aunt tries to make her a proper lady, but possessing her mother’s spirit, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.
While her grandfather prepares for a big campaign, Cora brings Lucky to her hometown to live with Jim for the summer. There, she learns about her roots, makes some new friends-the cynical Pru (voiced by Marsai Martin) and the musical Abigail (Mckenna Grace)-tames the main stallion whom she names Spirit, and embarks on a journey to stop some rustlers (Walton Goggins voices the head honcho) from selling off Spirit’s herd.
When “Dream Horse” came out a few weeks ago, it made me want to experience “The Black Stallion,” released in 1979, for the first time. The minute that masterpiece began, I was enthralled by its intelligence, locations, acting, and inspiration that made it a family classic. I’ve never seen that film as a kid, but better late than never. “Spirit Untamed” has its heart in the right place regarding the main heroine, who feels connected to her late mother and learns the family motto: “A Prescott never gives up.” Merced does a good job in that voice role, while the supporting work from Martin, Grace, and Gyllenhaal are charming on various terms.
But for a movie to be rebooted off a Netflix animated series, it doesn’t really have that kind of theatrical quality “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” did. It has to rely on some lame jokes like Cora falling in a cow pen, and wanting to burn her clothes, or jokes about horses eating marshmallows and train passengers looking for the John.
The movie’s animation isn’t as inspiring as other entries from Dreamworks Animation like “Shrek,” “Antz,” “The Croods,” or “How to Train Your Dragon,” but it is good, at times. The best-looking moments are when Lucky leads Spirit on a dangerous mountain or when the girls see a big valley at the end. Those are fascinating sequences, and they made me want to forget some of the generic features.
“Spirit Untamed” is a movie suitable for kids and their parents, but it’s not really much for adults who don’t have kids or some parents who would look at their watches. And it would have made more sense if it was released on Netflix. It’s not really a movie you’d see in theaters, but rather on TV or a laptop.