Toon Talk: Home on the Range
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Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt
Home on the Range
Supposedly the last traditionally animated feature film from the Disney Studios (at least for the time being), Home on the Range enters theaters this weekend with little buzz or advance fanfare apart from a mildly amusing trailer that relies heavily on the snarky vocal performance of Roseanne Barr and the musical pedigree of composer Alan Menken.
As seen in the trailer, amidst all the one-liners tossed about and slapstick on display, this Home is a musical comedy western told from the point of view of a species most commonly relegated in the western genre to bit parts and background players: the noble cow. Ample fodder for comedy sure, but no hint of anything more substantial then a few udder gags and farm animals performing Matrix-style karate. Not exactly something one would see as the hallmark to the (possible) end of an era.
Alas, as is often the case, first impressions (like trailers) can be misleading. Instead of being crass and crude as it initially appeared, Home on the Range is a warm-hearted, down home hootenanny of a good time, fitting squarely between the cartoony antics of an Emperor's New Groove and the family-based characterizations of a Lilo and Stitch, resulting in a worthy addition to the contemporary Disney canon.
Imagined on the screen with a charmingly retro feel to the animation and storytelling by writer/directors Will Finn and John Sanford, Home begins in its own little Patch of Heaven: a modest farm, owned by the motherly Pearl (voice of Carole Cook), populated by a menagerie of brightly-colored beasts led by the kindly Mrs. Caloway (Shakespeare in Love's Judi Dench) and the slightly dim Grace (Monsters, Inc.'s Jennifer Tilly), a couple of cows devoted to preserving this, their own humble home on the range.
Their idyllic sanctuary is disrupted though by a chain of events that will send them on an adventure no cow has ever seen: first is the arrival of Maggie (to say that Barr is perfectly cast as a brash bovine is meant in the sincerest of ways), a former ‘show cow' with a personality as oversized as her bulk. She doesn't quite fit in, to put it mildly, yet it is she who comes up with the plan to save the farm when the bank threatens to foreclose. With the tone-dead Grace and a doubtful Mrs. Caloway in tow, Maggie sets out to capture the infamous Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid), a crooning cattle rustler and shady land baron whose bounty will save Patch of Heaven. Complicating their mission is Buck (Snow Dogs' Cuba Gooding, Jr., finally using his comedic gifts for good), a hyper horse, literally a legend in his own mind, who also wants to catch Slim to prove to the world just how much of a hero he is, or at least thinks he is.