Walt Disney Studios hasn’t always had the best of luck in their 44 animated feature films. Some of their films have become instant classics (Snow White,The Lion King). Other movies have taken time to build an audience (Pinocchio, Fantasia). Still yet others have never been well received by most (The Black Cauldron, The Hunchback of Notre Dame). For true Disney Fans, through all of these films, there has always been the enjoyment of seeing just what the Mouse House would pull out next. Home on the Range marks the end of an era, declared as Disney’s last traditionally hand drawn 2-D animated movie.
Home on the Range is in many ways very standard Disney fare. You have the necessary battle between good and evil. You have the requisite funny background characters. And you have the story of a hero or heroine who feels like they don’t fit in and is seeking that special place where they belong. In Home on the Range that heroine just happens to be… a cow, or three cows, to be precise.
Maggie (Roseanne) is a prize show-cow heifer. However, before the opening credits role cattle thieves strike, stealing all of the other cattle at her ranch, causing the ranch to go to auction, and Maggie to be given to a smaller ranch appropriately titled “A Little Patch of Heaven”. There she meets fellow bovines, sophisticated Mrs. Calloway (Judi Dench) and goofy Grace (Jennifer Tilly) as well as a herd (pun intended) of other farmyard animals. Unfortunately “A Little Patch of Heaven” also has monetary problems and is in danger of going to auction as well. Maggie, being a more worldly experienced cow suggests the trio go into town and ask the sheriff’s horse Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr.) for more time so they can go win prize money at the local fair. When that time is denied, Maggie instead comes up with the idea of Bounty Hunting and soon the trio of cows find themselves in a race against Buck and bounty hunter legend Rico trying to capture the elusive Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid).
It’s a far-fetched plot to be sure, but in the library of Disney films, it fits in nicely.
The vocal acting is quite nice, which is surprising to say since the typically vocally grating Roseanne voices the lead character. She fits into the character nicely and for the most part behaves herself. Okay, yes, there is a boob joke. It’s one of the first lines in the movie, and I would bet most children wouldn’t understand it, so I wouldn’t be too concerned about that PG rating. What’s really fun to watch is the interaction between the characters of Maggie and Mrs. Calloway from actresses Roseanne and Judi Dench. Writer/Directors Will Finch and John Sanford made a brilliant move casting actresses so opposite each other to give voice to characters so equally opposite. It really does work for the movie and it doesn’t take much imagination to picture Dench and Roseanne in real life having a meal together ending in a distinguished pie fight. Jennifer Tilly’s silly character Grace actually adds a nice balance to the two other main characters. Cuba Gooding Jr.’s part is hilariously funny, and while it’s not a high quality role, it’s a halt to his selection of roles that makes you think he should give his Oscar back. Randy Quaid is indistinguishable as Alameda Slim, the only main character that’s a human. At times I thought he was at least half a dozen other actors, only to see Quaid’s name in the end credits. It’s a pleasant surprise from an actor who’s usually typecast into idiot comedic relief roles. As the animated world gives us interaction we wouldn’t usually see from Roseanne and Dench, it also allows Quaid to lose himself in a different character than he’s usually allowed a shot at. Of course, I would be remiss in my cult movie fan status if I didn’t point out that both Patrick Warburton and Steve Buscemi appear in small supporting roles, which fans should enjoy.
The important part of these animated movies is how well Disney creates a world from the music and artistic style of whatever theme they’ve selected. Home on the Range is no different here, truly carrying the style and feel of a western. Not a gritty spaghetti western, but a Roy Rogers and Dale Evans kind of western. The kind of western world we’d want to see in a Disney picture. Catchy music helps round out the feel of the film, with songs from notable country stars k.d. lang, Bonnie Raitt, and Tim McGraw. Unfortunately Disney continues its trend of keeping the music outside of the action, making it more of a movie with a soundtrack then a musical like their pictures of old. Luckily they allow one variation on this, a fantastic song performed by Alameda Slim singing about his particular method of stealing cattle – hypnotic yodeling. To say more is to spoil one of the best plot devices of the movie.
All in all Home on the Range is not going to be an instant classic blockbuster, but given how many of the features weren’t even when Walt was alive that’s not too surprising. What Home on the Range does offer are the things Walt always thought were important: Some interesting characters and a cute story line, which in the end adds up to be a fun little film. It’s a movie I think Walt would have enjoyed, and it does make one a little sad that it’ll be the last of its kind as Disney Studios turns to 3-D animation for the future.