Home on the Range
Will Finn, John Sanford
Will Finn, John Sanford
Roseanne Barr, Judi Dench, Jennifer Tilly, Cuba Gooding Jr., Randy Quaid, Charles Dennis, Steve Buscemi, David Burnham
PG (For brief mild rude humor)
No deer or antelope are Home on the Range in the last traditionally-animated film Disney intends to produce.
Celebrated show cow Maggie (voiced by Roseanne Barr) is forced to relocate to a small homestead named Patch of Heaven where she faces the loss of her new home to foreclosure. Along with fellow bovines Mrs. Calloway (Judi Dench) and Grace (Jennifer Tilly), she embarks on a quest to earn a $750 reward by bringing in the notorious castle rustler Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid) who just happens to be the reason Maggie had to leave her home in the first place.
After announcing they were closing their animation studio, Disney has had little hope of resurrecting its once powerful animation division. Home on the Range won’t give the company much hope in resuscitation. Disney artists and inexperienced directors Will Finn and John Sanford co-wrote the abysmal screenplay that takes barnyard animals on a tour of the wild west.
Along for the ride are Disney’s traditional array of color characters including a gruff Billy goat, a skittish chicken, cheeky baby chicks and overly-excitable piglets. These characters supply superficial comic relief only. The remaining cast includes Cuba Gooding Jr. as the cocky and ultimately unnecessary Buck, Slim’s idiotic triplets the Willies (voiced by David Burnham), the celebrated bounty hunter Rico (Charles Dennis) and longhorn rancher Wesley (Steve Buscemi).
Playing it safe is the rule of the day as we slowly watch the incredibly formulaic film tumble through the old west. The moral here is about having faith in yourself, not letting the fact that you’re out of your element stop you from succeeding and working through adversity to bring the unfriendly together. By the end of the film, you leave with the same view of life as you did going in.
Alan Menken returns to the musical staff with a lackluster background score and seven songs that don’t catch your attention. The music, while not superb, doesn’t distract from the story. The animation, while not as solid as in previous efforts, does have its own style. The problem is that where the hand-drawn portion ends, computer-irritation portion begins. Scenes that would normally have contained great matte backgrounds or incredibly simple drawn objects are replaced by haphazard and obvious computerized animation that distracts rather than supports. This trend, started with the blended ball room sequence in Beauty and the Beast , has become too burdensome in recent years and may have assisted in the decline of traditional animation.
Home on the Range however, does not fail on its animation efforts. It fails in its story. Disney left well written storytelling for pulp adventure that led audiences on adventures they could never live otherwise. The problem was that the traditional fairy tales that supplied many of the screenplays virtually dried up. Home on the Range isn’t based on any previously produced material. Even the most unlikely adaptations like The Hunchback of Notre Dame succeeded because of its depth of character and powerful storytelling. This film doesn’t even try to make a success. It feels like a film slapped together by Walt Disney’s board of directors and never put through the long production schedules and hard-wrought renderings of its past.
Home on the Range may be Disney’s last hand-drawn film for quite awhile, instead focusing on computer-rendered filmmaking, but hope remains that they will rebound from their recent lull. The company has had similar breaks in quality, each lasting roughly 30 years, then the medium is reborn and a new generation is introduced to the brilliance of history’s greatest animation firm. We’ll hope that the Snow Whites of the 1930s, the Sleeping Beauties of the 1960s and The Beauties and the Beasts of the 1990s will remerge sooner than the 2020s but only time and patience will tell.
April 8, 2004