Directed By Elaine Bogan and Ennio Torresan
Starring – Isabela Merced, Jake Gyllenhaal, Marsai Martin
The Plot – Lucky Prescott’s (Merced) life is changed forever when she moves from her home in the city to a small frontier town and befriends a wild mustang named Spirit.
Rated PG for some adventure action
– Moral fiber. At the center of the film’s conflicts and many versatile characters is a friendship between a trio of young ladies, led by Lucky, who are easily the single best aspect of the entire film, in my opinion. Part of that accolade stems from the movie’s overwhelming amount of depth and interaction paid to their adventure that allows each of them to grow as friends simultaneously as Lucky is growing to be the voice within, but it’s also this aspect of the film that slows the overwhelming pacing down, teaching us the audience to never overlook or undervalue the moments in between that carry with them the biggest clarity for nourishing growth. It was an abundance of heartfelt circumstance and emotional resonance that supplants the idea of something more meaningful persevering from within the film’s often diminishing think tank, outlining a message of belonging that enriches the feel good atmosphere that remains consistent throughout the narrative.
– Reflective score. Much of my problem with the 2002 original that this movie is based off of stems from a swelling musical score that not only brought out the shallow sentimentality of emotional meandering that often overstepped its boundaries over the actors, but also brought with it some of the most awful songs that I’ve ever heard from Bryan Adams, a feat in itself. For this soundtrack, there are power ballads from contemporary artists like Becky G and Taylor Swift, , but they’re saved for the moments of transition, when their presence doesn’t echo what’s already being conveyed in the context of the scene. On top of that, the tracks themselves are inspiring and full of cultural essence that reflects vividly from the movie’s distinctly unique setting, supplanting a collective effort that is every bit relevant for its place in time today, as it is instrumentally synonymous with everything transpiring tonally in the film.
– Big name atmosphere. Most of the work from this stellar cast is done accordingly enough to bring to life the energy of their enveloping, which doesn’t feel phoned-in for the sake of a guaranteed paycheck. However, it’s the interaction and dynamic from a collection of these stars that easily cements this with a big screen captivity, complete with some scene stealing turns along the way brought forth by a few. For my money, those three are Merced as the movie’s central protagonist, Lucky, whom Isabela brings forth with adventurous spirit and charismatic magnetism, Martin as Pru, an intelligent perceiver of all things horses, and Mckenna Grace as Abigail, a carefree thrillseeker with a musician underlining. These three bring with them an unbreakable chemistry that I previously heralded in my first positive for the film, but aside from that zero in on the essence of an ambitious young adult, complete with dreams and aspirations that gives each of their characters wings where the flailing characterization often lets them down. Aside from them, the turns from Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, and my boy Walton Goggins, are credible enough in what minimal time each of them receive, but “Spirit: Untamed” is definitely a young woman’s game, and one that the trio of ladies ride with infectious candor.
– Animal intrigue. The one obvious intention that ties the two films together is the focus for the evolving bond between girl and horse that does momentarily tug at the heartstrings for the language of love that doesn’t require dialogue between them to sell its purpose. In that regard, I love that this is an animated film that chose not to have any of the horses voice dialogue, instead giving them an unflinching realism that works wonders in the innocence of their naivety in contrast to occasionally barbaric human actions. Because of such, I was very surprised to see not only the focus paid towards the bodily movements and distrust of the horse, which are anything but easy to overcome, but also in the these moments of terror that stem from abuse during these hard to watch situations. Nothing is too violent to frighten kids completely, but I credit the film’s responsible take for depicting matters that unfortunately happen everyday, and stitching it into the fabric of the narrative that does tiptoe as close to terror as PG will allow.
– Stagnant story. Without question, my biggest adversity in my experience with the film was this by the numbers narrative that feels like a collection of tropes too shallow to feel compelling. It takes all of these elements of story that I previously mentioned, and fleshes them out in a simplistic, conventional manner that refuses to do anything outside of the box to keep youthful audiences engaged in what takes place. Almost all of the problems can be summarized with the movie’s low-hanging message attained through the eyes of its protagonist, outlining a high stakes concept that is essentially anything but in the measures it’s garnered, especially considering the bulk of its essence is attained while away from the movie’s primary conflict and overwhelming antagonists. Predictability is certainly a problem with “Spirit: Untamed”, but much of this narrative has an asleep at the wheel feeling that treads too often on comfortability, outlining an experience entirely for kids that even they will feel bored by a half hour in.
– Bombing humor. I can appreciate an attempt at gaining a light-hearted personality for a film that can result in the biggest weapon towards audiences believing that they had a good time with a film, but with that said the lukewarm gags in the movie register with an overwhelming afterthought that are downright embarrassing for the way they halt the momentum of the scene to convey their presence. Part of it is insulting, considering this animated adventure film really doesn’t require audible and visual sight gags to sell its appeal, but even worse than that it’s the lack of confidence that each of them are delivered with, registering with a completely ineffective lack of emphasis that feels reflective of three different screenwriters jockeying (See what I did there?) for position in a film that is tonally as ambiguous as anything that I’ve seen this year.
– Abrupt pacing. Where to begin here? Considering this is a barebones 83 minute finished product, the lack of depth with storytelling is certainly nothing surprising. However, what’s most apparent is the lack of synergy produced from the sequences of events laid at the foot of the audience for them to entertain. Not only are scenes repeated back to back in this respect, but the leaps in logic with time and how it passes appropriately in a way that certain characters require it to, was most distracting when trying to keep the stakes in my head at all times, that resonated without even a single ounce of urgency to sell their impact. It’s rare that a film so brief can feel like such a chore to sit through, but when you consider it’s essentially a series of short sequences trying to establish more with less, it will inevitably feel like an effort that is twice of its lifespan without ever gaining the momentum needed in storytelling to convince an audience to care.
– Characterization. Basically, there isn’t any. The way we are introduced to these characters and followed through on is not only produced in the least engaging way possible, unraveling without anything appealing or diverse about their registries and demeanors that makes us care about them , regardless of how much the movie conveys the idea that we should. One such monumental problem in this regard is the antagonist of the movie, voiced by the great Walton Goggins. A character whose outdated design practically mirrors that of the bird poacher in “The Rescuers Down Under”, and whose emotional depth is never even remotely realized with even a single scene dedicated to him away from the presence of Lucky to illustrate what makes him tick. Scenes paid to him could’ve also paid dividends towards the heavily flawed pacing that I previously mentioned, taking some of the burden off of the shoulders of the surrounding protagonists, whose ordeal grows repetitive near the end of the movie’s first act.
– Lifeless animation. To be fair, some of the designs, specifically the backdrops, aren’t as offensive as the lack of detail given to the characters, especially that of the titular foal. When you look at credible studios like Laika or Pixar, you see layers articulated with everything from cloud movements to water splashing, and especially to visual character distinctions. Such is a problem here, as the horses feel two dimensional in a three-dimensional artistic rendering. There’s no fur outlines to grant realism, very little mouth movement to play towards the spontaneity of their mannerisms, and when compared to the bountiful backdrops that I previously applauded, leave plenty more to be desired in the realm of fantastical escapism that fail to keep this feeling like anything other than a straight to DVD consistency that it can’t silence with even the most basic elements of production.
My Grade: 4/10 or D