“Spirit Untamed” Review: DreamWorks Toon Recycles Low Cost TV Series

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A child named Lucky loses his mother, moves to the border with his father, and befriends a wild mustang in “Spirit Untamed”. While experienced professionals fail to break the stallion with the strong will, Lucky (who has never ridden a horse) fed him a few apples, and soon after, the youngster tamed the stubborn animal – which is incompatible with this cheap and versatile sloth. title of the animated film, but attribute it to marketing.

While Disney produces live-action remakes of its most popular cartoons, DreamWorks Animation has another strategy: for every modestly successful theatrical release (and even a little less, like the “Turbo” snail racing saga), it is launching an episodic TV series on Netflix or Nickelodeon to keep the characters alive and the products wanted.

With “Spirit Untamed”, the studio comes full circle by producing an animated film based on the animated series (“Spirit Riding Free”) based on the 2002 animated feature “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron”. It’s not clear if this latest – and least appealing – incarnation is a reboot, a remake, or just a smokescreen with easy money, but it does exist and the kids know the property, so it will be seen. Whether this benign (read: bland) film does something to significantly expand / expand the franchise is another question.

It’s been 19 years since the original “Spirit,” which was DreamWorks‘ penultimate hand-drawn feature. The gorgeous film was an unconventional toon in many ways: a talking animal film in which the titular horse (voiced by Matt Damon) only spoke to us, the audience, while also communicating with others through sniffles and movements. “Spirit” projected an aesthetic and conceptual purity that DreamWorks has since abandoned, a spectacular “Circle of Life” prologue to “The Lion King” with digital tools that allowed the virtual camera to dive and fly through the sky. Wild West.

Within a few years, DreamWorks’ computer animation technology would be so sophisticated – and the “Shrek” series so successful – that it would render the traditional (manual) approach obsolete. But “Spirit”, although not a masterpiece in itself, will always remain the apotheosis of what the studio could achieve the old-fashioned way … which makes this sequel decades old. later a rude awakening.

It’s possible that we already saw the peak of DreamWorks’ CG potential, before the sale to Universal, when Jeffrey Katzenberg was still in charge. The latter functionality appears to have been outsourced, with DreamWorks overseeing the development and animation handled by Jellyfish Pictures at a fraction of the cost. The result seems disappointing to say the least, barely better than the low-budget “Hoodwinked” one fifteen years ago.

“Spirit Untamed” effectively picks up the pilot episode of the “Spirit Riding Free” series, which covered its bargain-priced tracks with textures that seemed almost painterly in comparison, like something out of a picture book. This new feature replaces poorly designed, obviously digital, characters that were poorly rigged and stuck in under-detailed environments. At first, while chasing a squirrel through a banquet hall, Lucky falls down and disrupts the entire event, but the reward shot ends up on a table with a few items knocked over, possibly because more props would have been too expensive or cumbersome to host.

Quality animation can be very expensive, and it would be easy to forgive such tricks at a reduced rate of independent production. But we’ve come to expect some quality from the studio that produced “Kung Fu Panda” and “How to Train Your Dragon,” and this step backwards is an unsettling development, one that doesn’t deserve the DreamWorks name. The decision to adapt the TV series in the first place is also questionable, especially if there is no commitment to reinforce what came before – except for a visually striking fantasy sequence, in which Lucky crosses a ground. wet reflecting an indigo blue sky.

Spirit still looks like Spirit, but neither the horse nor the girl (who is voiced by live-action Dora actress Isabela Merced) has much of a personality, while the plot is less sophisticated than audiences might expect. from a single from the beginning of the 20th century. Silent Movie: Lucky takes a train with Aunt Cora (Julianne Moore) to join his father (Jake Gyllenhaal) in the West, seeing Spirit running free en route. Once Lucky reaches his new home, Dad forbids her to have anything to do with horses, but she disobeys and ends up stealing Spirit in order to free a number of wild horses from a thief (Walton Goggins) .

The heroes are girls – Lucky and her friends Abigail (Mckenna Grace) and Pru (Marsai Martin) – and it’s a step in the right direction, in terms of portrayal. (Only one of them is white.) But the film is so devoid of personality that any advancement in identity politics is practically irrelevant. The movie gives Merced a chance to perform some decent songs, while the soundtrack also includes Becky G’s single “You Belong”, but not the Taylor Swift cover “Wildest Dreams” featured in the trailer. But then, very little of “Spirit Untamed” lives up to what the studio is selling.

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