Spirit Untamed acts as a reimagining of two other stories following the adventures of Spirit, a Kiger mustang who (thankfully) does not speak anthropomorphically. The first is 2002’s nobly old-fashioned but stubbornly anti-dramatic Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, which followed the steed’s friendship with a Native American man during the American Indian Wars of the late 1800s. The second is “Spirit Riding Free,” a Netflix series that premiered in 2017 and has already seen eight seasons (with a ninth on the way), two spinoff short-form series and two special episodes. This new movie, meanwhile, was seemingly made for no one.

Fans of the first movie are now 19 years older than they were when it was released and will only receive a new story involving the same horse. And yet, this isn’t even technically the same Spirit, voiced the first time through ponderous narration by Matt Damon, who does not return for this installment, and neither of the two primary human characters from that film appear in this one. Fans of the series (unseen by this critic) have presumably seen this story, or some variation on it, in its 78 episodes. Screenwriters Aury Wallington (who developed that spinoff series) and Kristin Hahn are grasping, then, for any reason to formulate a story around Spirit once more. On that front, they have given us the bare minimum in effort.

Since the death of her mother (Eiza González) when she was a child, Lucky Prescott (Isabela Merced) has been living with Cora (Julianne Moore), her aunt on her father’s side, in a bustling East Coast metropolis. Fed up with her niece’s antics, Cora moves herself and Lucky out to Miradero, a rural town on the edge of the frontier, where Lucky’s father Jim (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a ranch hand. The city girl is shaken up by the sudden shift in backdrop, but some good comes out of it when she meets a few new friends: Pru (Marsai Martin) is the daughter of Jim’s best friend (Andre Braugher) and Abigail (Mckenna Grace) is an entertainer and a veteran on horseback.

Most important, of course, is Spirit, the horse of the hour, who becomes her companion through a series of sluggish adventures. The conflict comes with the arrival of Hendricks (Walton Goggins), a devious horse wrangler who wants to kidnap Spirit and put the poor beast into a life of hard labor. It’s heavy stuff for an otherwise light (and slight) affair that never gets more intense than when Lucky and Spirit slide down almost the entirety of a cliff face. Meanwhile, Lucky looks for clues about her mother’s life, Jim tries valiantly and in vain to hide those truths from her (and, crucially, from himself) and the whole affair moves along quickly enough to stave off being genuinely insufferable.

The voice cast is committed enough to perching carefully between the clearly childish nature of the plot and its frenzied action sequences and that heavier material. The screenwriters, director Elaine Bogan and codirector Ennio Torresan Jr. run into their biggest problems, though, when justifying the simple existence of their movie. As is, Spirit Untamed will only find value as a bright distraction for children who like horses. The movie seems built to ignore everything around those horses, which is another way of saying it’s pretty pointless.

Spirit Untamed will only find value as a bright distraction for children who like horses.
40 %
Lacking Spirit
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