BY ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION

FOR PUBLICATION: BY WILL DATE: 06/01/2021

FILM REVIEW by Richard Roeper

“SPIRIT UNTAMED” Three Stars Lucky ……… Isabela Merced Aunt Cora ….. Julianne Moore Jim ……….. Jake Gyllenhaal Hendricks ….. Walton Goggins Pru ……….. Marsai Martin Abigail ……. Mckenna Grace

Universal is presenting a film by Elaine Bogan, written by Aury Wallington and Kristin Hahn. Rated PG (for some adventure action). Running time: 88 minutes. Opens Thursday in local theaters.

The animation universe “Spirit” includes the movie “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” from 2002 and the Netflix series “Spirit Riding Free”, which debuted in 2017 – while the new DreamWorks theatrical release “Spirit Untamed” is a spin-off / a sequel to those previous chapters, it works well as a standalone, good, old-fashioned western with a trio of 12 year old girls as heroes, and that’s pretty cool, isn’t it?

“Spirit Untamed” restarts the pilot of the Netflix series and expands the story into a full-length adventure full of crazy action sequences (partly comedic, partly harrowing), infectious melodies and the obligatory heartfelt moments of love and loss and friendship and family.

Isabela Merced gives a winning vocal performance as Lucky Prescott, a brave and rebellious adolescent who has joined since childhood on the East Coast under the care of her Aunt Cora (Julianne Moore) and her mother Milagro (Eiza Gonzalez), a famous stunt rider died in a tragic accident. After Lucky’s annoying antics have thwarted her grandfather’s political campaign, it is decided that Aunt Cora will take Lucky on a train to Lucky’s little hometown Miradero, where they will spend the summer with Lucky’s father Jim (Jake Gyllenhaal) who is no I haven’t seen his daughter since she was 2 years old and he was too sad to take care of her.

On the train ride, Lucky first came into contact with Spirit, the leader of a pack of wild horses that ran alongside the train. While Lucky does death-defying stunt work that only an animated girl can pull off, the horses also draw the attention of Hendricks (Walton Goggins), a cunning and evil horse fighter who plans to catch the entire herd and bring them to himself drive off workhorses who will spend the rest of their lives working hard until it literally kills them. Oooh, that Hendricks, he’s the worst!

When Cora and Lucky arrive at Miradero, Lucky quickly befriends the smart and practical Pru (Marsai Martin) and the goofy and sweet Abigail (Mckenna Grace), who teach her to ride and encourage her to bond with her spirit, by feeding him apples, lots and lots of apples. The girls are great together; there is no made-up rivalry or jealousy or misunderstanding. They connect instantly and stand by each other throughout the story.

Things are not going so smoothly on the home front. Jim looks like a traditional western hero, but in reality he’s a bit of a hoarder and an eccentric, and he’s spectacularly ill-equipped to suddenly become a father of Lucky – mostly because he’s plagued with guilt for being Lucky sent away. He also has a strict rule for Lucky: No riding horses. That killed her mother and Jim doesn’t want to put his daughter in danger. Of course, more than anything else in this world, Lucky wants to establish a connection with Spirit until the great stallion allows her to ride through the great expanse with him.

After Hendricks and his henchmen capture Spirit and the herd and force them onto a train for auction, the story grows more fantastic when Lucky and Pru and Abigail go on a rescue mission where they must perform heroics that test them the limits of most comic book superheroes. As the action gets wilder and crazier, we’re actually a little less involved in the story. Yes, this is an animated fable, but when the youthful heroes suddenly have almost overwhelming abilities, the emotional commitment drops.

Still, director Elaine Bogan created a compelling adventure story, and songs like “You Belong (Tu Lugar)”, “Join Up” and “Better With You” are beautifully rendered. So many animated films are multilayered endeavors filled with jokes only adults can understand, but Spirit Untamed is pure and unbridled family fun, pardon the pun. The animation is crisp and light, the speech is crackling, and the story of Spirit and the girl who became his best friend is heartfelt.

Short review: “Spirit Untamed” (Animated Adventure, PG, 88 minutes). A rebellious 12-year-old teams up with her new friends to rescue a Mustang that she is friends with. As a spin-off of the Netflix series, it works fine as a standalone, good, old-fashioned western, and that’s pretty cool, isn’t it? Rating: three stars.

(EDITORIAL: For editorial questions, contact Josh Peres, jperes (at) amuniversal.com.)

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