In a departure from the usual kiddie-cartoon fare, the wild horses in DreamWorks’ animated Western adventure don’t speak. But we do hear the titular steed’s thoughts in Matt Damon’s voice-over – which was recorded late in the production – and the animals whinny to each other, with lots of nearly human expressions to get across their meanings.
”They’re halfway between real horses and Disney’s old [character] Horace Horsecollar,” says codirector Asbury, a former Disney storyboard artist making his feature-helming debut. The visual style is a 2-D/3-D hybrid, with hand-drawn characters largely placed against fluid, swooping-perspective CG backgrounds. And there’s nothing cartoon-cuddly about the plot, which details Spirit’s capture and brutal treatment at the hands of a stern Army general (Cromwell).
In fact, the action touches on so many torments – branding, starvation, bullet injuries – that Asbury was ”surprised” to get a G rating rather than a PG. ”There’s nothing really shown on screen,” says Asbury. ”But horses haven’t generally been treated well in history…so you don’t want to pull too many punches. It was a constant concern: How much violence do we show? How much whipping? How many guns? You want to make it an adventure, not an ordeal.”