It never ceases to amaze me when the opening 2 minutes of a film can tell you exactly what you’re about to experience, all by how it presents itself. Luckily, Spirit Untamed reveals its hand relatively quickly, letting you know exactly what kind of film you’re in for. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a kids film, a horror, or a documentary; it’s that same feeling across all films, a tell-tale sign that indicates whether you’re about to see something truly special or something disastrously generic. Can you guess where this little horsey lands?
Well I’ll tell you where it lands, it lands nowhere, because that’s really the most apt way to describe what this film is, or rather, what these types of films are. Spirit Untamed is a film that is quite simply attempting to emulate the storytelling style of everything and anything that has shown promise, and by doing so it loses all sight of its own identity, thus becoming nothing. It’s like combining the national food dishes of every country into one large pot and expecting it to taste good. What Spirit Untamed does wrong is by simply doing nothing particularly meaningful, interesting, or consistent – that’s it, that is its crime.
This film feels deeply uninspired to be its own thing, to be a free spirit, instead it sits in the realm of the dead; reminding one a lot of the straight-to-streaming kids films that are hidden so deep within the Netflix catalogue that it’d take serious scrolling to find them. Like a ravenous poltergeist haunting an old mansion, Spirit Untamed is no different to these wreckless entities; it certainly terrified me with its impressively dull story.
Spirit Untamed animation quality feels extremely outdated when compared to the likes of recent films such as Disney’s Frozen II, Pixar’s Toy Story 4, and even Dreamworks’ The Croods: A New Age. It has been reported that the production of the film was outsourced, which resulted in Dreamworks continuing the development and the animation being helmed by Jellyfish Pictures to reduce budget. It is reasonable for the animation quality to be less when having a lower budget but considering the development of technology, it is completely unacceptable to have a film that has the animation quality comparable to Over the Hedge (2006) or Open Season (2006) to receive a theatrical release. Appalling.
There is a blending of animation styles that don’t work such as basic 3-D computer animation with a backdrop of paint-like textures that are not aesthetically pleasing, particularly when the virtual camera doesn’t establish a focal point to direct the audience’s gaze. I can cast some respect towards the detailings of the character designs; specifically, in close-up shots. Besides this, not much else can be said regarding detail and texture across the 89 minute runtime as the environments are poorly rendered. The overall creativity and animation quality makes Spirit Untamed to feel like a straight-to-dvd from 2005 – but in today’s terms, a straight-to-peacock release would have sufficed. There is not much to note about the score in Spirit Untamed as most of the musical pieces are easily quite forgettable and fails to capture the connection between the characters emotions and the film’s big moments.
It’s a small shame to see DreamWorks Animation scrape the bottom of the barrel in this way, as there seems to be a continued reliance to revamp their older properties, no doubt to squeeze more life out of them. Based on even recent history, DreamWorks Animation is more than capable of producing unique and engaging stories – it’s just a shame that is becoming rarer.