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Home on the Range  (2004)


Voices: Cuba Gooding Jr., Judi Dench, Randy Quaid
Director: John Sanford, Will Finn

Rating: PG

Studio: Walt Disney

Release Date: 04.02.04

Review Posted: 04.02.04

Spoilers: Minor


By Sara M. Fetters


"Range" an Animated Old West Adventure


Time will only tell if hand-drawn animation is really going to go the way of the Dodo with computer animation to forever take its place within movie houses. That time may be nigh – and with three major computer animated offerings this year it very well may be – but it still isn’t upon us yet, especially not with whimsically entertaining concoctions like Disney’s “Home on the Range” proving their worth.


Set in a fanciful version of the Old West, the Mouse House’s latest owes more to the world of Warner Bros. Looney Tunes than it does to the studio classic’s lining Disney vaults. That’s a good thing, for the studio hasn’t made a cartoon this off-the-wall and irreverent in quit some time. Well, at least since the surprisingly entertaining “The Emperor’s New Groove,” as fractured a fairy tale of good versus evil that’s ever come out of Mickey’s storybook home.


“Home on the Range” concerns itself with the fate of three cows; the sassy show cow Maggie (a splendid Roseanne Bar), the prim Mrs. Caloway (a reserved Judi Dench), the sweetly unhinged Grace (Jennifer Tilly, stealing the film every time she opens her mouth); and their utopian farm Patch of Heaven. With the bank ready to put the land and all its livestock up for auction, the three hefty heifers take it upon themselves to find away to raise the $750 needed to save their home.


With only three days to do it, Maggie comes up with the idea to capture legendary cattle rustler Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid), the reward money being offered for his apprehension just happening to equal the very amount the bank requires. As a side benefit, the wisecracking Maggie can get revenge on the outlaw for decimating the ranch of her original owner of all its livestock. She can’t wait to make Slim pay, saving Patch of Heaven just a particularly nice side benefit of doing so.


Complicating matters is renowned bounty hunter Rico (Charles Dennis), the sheriff’s cocky young horse Buck (a refreshingly restrained Cuba Gooding, Jr.), a conniving pipsqueak of a money man named Wesley (Steve Buscemi) and a peg-legged sage rabbit named Lucky Jack (Charles Haid). Adding even more nefarious fuel to the fire is rotund land baron Yancy O’Dell, a seemingly honest businessman who may have more than just a passing connection to Slim.


But these convolutions pale to the interpersonal roadblocks put up by the three bovines themselves. Through flash floods, wicked dust storms and even some hypnotic Pied Piper-esque yodeling, Maggie, Mrs. Caloway and Grace can’t seem to stop their own bickering. The first two in particular can’t begin to hide their mutual dislike of one another, the all-consuming passion to just be through with one another’s company nearly enough to derail their mission to save the farm.


“Home on the Range” is a fun, light-hearted romp through the Old West that’s an unanticipated amount of fun. The story, concocted by no less than six writers, is an episodic journey through beguilingly silly adventures, director’s Will Finn and John Sanford ably putting their star characters through their hoofed paces. Much like vintage Bugs Bunny cartoons, there is a whimsically infatuating “anything goes” vitality that’s intoxicatingly infectious. Most of all, it’s funny and full of life, hitting so many right notes it just can’t help but keep an audience filled with young and old blissfully entertained.


Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t even come close to ranking amongst the Disney pantheon of classics like “Sleeping Beauty” or “Beauty and the Best.” Heck, it’s not even as good as the studio’s most recent hand-drawn hit “Lilo & Stitch,” lacking that one’s freshness and unassuming willingness to take on subjects once presumed too complex for the likes of an animated picture. Also, while Alan Menken and Glenn Slater’s songs are nice, they aren’t particularly memorable, making the participation of talented country artists like k.d. Lang, Bonnie Raitt and Tim McGraw almost seem like an afterthought.


Still, this picture is an awful lot of fun. I ended the movie much the way I began it, sitting in my seat with googly-eyed grin. From a troupe of fantastically funny chicks to a can-hoarding goat to a production number filled to the brim with bouncing pink-eyed bulls, there is enough here to make one chuckle incessantly for the entire 80-minute runtime. Even more, “Home on the Range” proves traditional animation is still a vibrant art form, and that alone makes this Disney entertainment worthy of praise.


Film Rating: êêê  (out of 4)


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