Title: Home on the Range
Release Date: April 2, 2004
Director: Will Finn & John Sanford
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
It’s hard to understand what happened to Walt Disney animated features in the first decade of the century. Hot on the heels of the 1990s Disney Renaissance, when the opening of every Disney animated movie was a big event, suddenly you have a string of around 11 movies that opened with a whimper and are remembered well in retrospect either (with the exception of Lilo & Stitch, which is a masterpiece that arose from low-budget experimentation).
The concept behind Home on the Range, a Western movie from the perspective of cows, is a clever one. And with women voicing the three lead cow characters and the owner of the farm they hope to save, it’s a strong women-lead story as well. The animation style is reminiscent of the Post-Walt/pre-Renaissance features of the 1970s and 80s. But the movie seems unable to decide if it’s light family fare of that earlier era, or if it is the brash ironic comedy of the 1990s with bodily function jokes. I mean, I like a good belching joke, but it has to be good, and a joke, not just belching.
Roseann Barr is surprisingly not irritating as the lead cow, Maggie, a new arrival on the Patch of Heaven farm. When she learns that the farmer Pearl (Carole Cook) may lose the farm due to debt, she enlists the fussy, older cow, Mrs. Calloway (Judi Dench) and a spacey, younger cow, Grace (Jennifer Tilly) on a mission to save the farm. This means hunting down the cattle rustler Slim Alameda (Randy Quaid) who uses his mesmerizing yodeling skills to lure cattle away from their ranches.
There are some good gags here and there, but it’s a bit one-note and feels padded to make very little story into a feature film. My guess is that very young children may enjoy this movie, but it’s not one of those movies with the Disney magic that makes it entertaining for all ages.