Home on the Range
little patch of so-so heaven hits theaters
Monday, April 5, 2004
by Alex Stroup, staff writer
Quickname the last five Disney feature
If you could do that without straining much,
then you might want to go see Home on the Range. Otherwise you're probably
not so immersed in animation that missing this one will cause much bother.
year's Brother Bear wasn't very good, but at least Disney was trying to
make a film. Home on the Range isn't very goodnor is it very badand
it feels like it was given up on. At 76 minutes, it feels even shorter and really
feels like an extended Looney Tunes cartoon.
Vista Pictures Distribution
Now, there is nothing obviously wrong with an
extended Looney Tunes cartoon, but at its best, Disney's animation features have
stretched and told big full stories, with a solid narrative and visual elan. For
the most part you could take the inidividual scenes in Home on the Range
and reorder them or simply remove them and you'd have the same movie. The episodic
feeling of the film may be understandable, considering that six people (including
the directors, Will Finn and John Sanford) receive story credit. Perhaps they
just handed 20 blank pages to each and asked them to come up with something.
on the Range mixes the classic comedy western with your typical animated talking
animals. Recapping the movie is a tricky affair; it's so short I could practically
submit the entire script and still fit within the 1,000-word limit for this column.
stage is set as Maggie (a cow, also Roseanne Barr) narrates the story of how her
original owner lost his farm after his entire herd was cattle-rustled in the dark
of night and disappeared without a trace. Unable to afford his ranch, or Maggie
(a show cow who slept in a stall rather than the corral), the owner gives her
to Pearl (Carole Cook), the single frontierswoman who owns Patch of Heaven.
introduced to Patch of Heaven in a song-and-dance number that established that
it is a great place to live. Pearl can't understand her animals, but they share
the work of the farm and the animals are considered family, not food (I can understand
why you'd have chickens, cows, and goats even if you aren't going to eat them,
but why would you have a bunch of pigs?).
The livestock members of the family
are led by two cows (as we're informed, it is well known that bovines are the
cleverest animals of all): the prim and proper Mrs. Calloway (Judi Dench), and
the kind-hearted, ditzy Grace (Jennifer Tilly).
Roseanne Barr, Jennifer
Tilly, Judi Dench. One of these is not like the others. Actually, while I miss
the days when the celebrity voice was reserved for a key sidekick, there is nothing
to complain about in the voicework here, and Roseanne's brashness well fits her
When they learn that Patch of Heaven is going to be foreclosed
and auctioned, the three cows head into town to beg the sheriff's horse (Cuba
Gooding, Jr., as a horse too distracted by his dreams of heroism to actually be
heroic) to find a way to get them more time. While in town, they see that Alameda
Slim (Randy Quaid), the notorious cattle rustler, has a reward of $750 on his
head. Coincidentally just the amount that is owed on the farm.
the chase is onand whatever originality was present is gone. From here on
out it is one scene after another of your typical Western comedy gags. Walk into
a burlesque show? Check. Mine train chase? Check. Runaway train? Check. Psychedelic
cattle rustling? Check.
Waitthat was original. It is in the Alameda
Slim character and his method of stealing cattle that a hint of the Disney genius
is seen, both in the audacity of the idea and the visual delight with which it
was executed. But this bit is only 90-seconds or so, and then it's shut down and
we're back to the series of animated shorts.
Vista Pictures Distribution
Finally, one of the big selling points is that
the film marks the return of composer Alan Menken to Disney animation (absent
from Disney features since 1997's Hercules). Menken, of course, led the
resurgence of Disney animation beginning with The Little Mermaid (1989)
with partner Howard Ashman. That partnership ended with Ashman's death in 1991
after The Beauty and the Beast, and a strong case could be made that this
marked the end of the second coming of Disney musical animation.
throughout the movie is spot-on for the comedy western it is trying to be, but
there is never really a showstopper tune that must be present in any good musical
(such as Under the Sea and Be Our Guest). Despite an all-star
cast of singers (including k.d. lang, Bonnie Raitt, and Tim McGraw), nothing really
sticks out as something you'll immediately recognize in two years, let alone decades
Younger children should enjoy this, and it's quick enough that
parents won't regret joining them. The animation is up to Disney standards (though
in that angular style of which I'm not so fond) and it is still a big step up
from your typical Saturday morning cartoon.
This movie is rated PG, but
that mostly just goes to show that the G rating is just about impossible to get
any longer for a movie with any real action. Everything is pretty mild and while
the jokes try to be somewhat current, an udder joke is about as tasteless as it
Thoughts, questions, or comments?
Contact Alex here.
Home on the
Range is a Walt Disney Pictures release
theatrical release: Friday, April 2, 2004
and written by Will Finn and John Sanford.
Judi Dench, Roseanne Barr, Jennifer Tilly, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Randy Quaid.
PG for brief mild rude humor
Running time: 76 minutes
Alex's Rating: 5 out of 10
Alex Stroup is a degreed librarian with an undergraduate degree in history. An avid reader, movie buff, and devoted information junkie, Alex currently lives and works in the Northern California Bay Area. Alex is also the CEO of MousePlanet.
Click here to contact Alex.