Home On The Range

Keep them wagons rollin' right on past this pointless shambles.

Released in 2004, certified UK-U. Reviewed on 21 Aug 2005 by Craig Eastman
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There's an old joke you'll only understand if you're familiar with the Scottish dialect which asks "What's the difference between Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney?". The answer: "Mickey Mouse has big ears and Walt disnae". A more contemporary and topical spin might replace "Mickey Mouse" with "Pixar", the response being "Pixar has a shit-load of talent and creativity while Walt disnae". The latest evidence of this came in the form of Home On The Range which, if commonly perceived wisdom holds true, supposedly represents Disney's final foray in the world of traditional 2D animation. Quite why this sits with The House Of Mouse as an excuse to foist such uninspiring (even by recent Disney standards) fluff upon it's fan base is beyond me, unless everybody was so busy with the CG transition that this one got left to the janitors.

Feeling as though it were churned out on the last day of school when nobody really gave much of a hoot what was supposed to be happening, Home On The Range seems a far cry even from previous "could try harder" effort Brother Bear. Set in the Wild West, HOTR focusses on a group of animals living out their lives peacefully at the Patch Of Heaven farm owned by lovely old lady Pearl. Watched over by motherly dairy cow Mrs. Calloway (Dame Judi Dench) and her lovable yet mentally challenged sidekick Grace (Jennifer Tilly. Mmmmm, Tilly...), the residents are bemused by the arrival of brassy show cow Maggie (Roseanne Barr). Their interest in the ?ber-uddered one is soon forgotten, however, when the local Sheriff announces the impending auction of Pearl's property. It seems a cattle rustler by the name of Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid) has upset the economy so severely that the banks are hurriedly collecting on their debts, and Patch Of Heaven is soon to go under the hammer.

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As would of course be natural, the three lactating leads head off in search of Slim, determined to capture him and use the bounty to save Pearl's farm from closure. Along the way they enlist the alternating help / hindrance of wannabe action steed Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr. failing miserably at his best Chris Rock impersonation) and come across all manner of subsidiary characters all entwined in Disney's plot to snag your buck in exchange for as little effort as is possible, which is to say pretty much none. As always with Disney, no matter how tepid the material there are always highlights (in this case Slim's innocently bumbling nephews the Willie Brothers, all three voiced by Sam J. Levine), but unfortunately for HOTR the bad far outweighs the good. You know you've got problems when even Steve Buscemi (appearing all too briefly as ruthless cattle dealer Wesley) can't manage to raise the mood a little...

While your average Disney movie isn't exactly known for it's inventive approach to morality tales, HOTR offers even less insight and invention than usual. The powers that be might be claiming this as more of an outing for the very young viewer, but even at that kids today are waaaaay more sophisticated than those involved with this picture seem to think. Even technically the look and feel of the picture suggests a rush-job, the overall appearance being more of an extended TV episode than something intended as a cinema candidate, but then given Disney's recent reliance on straight-to-video sequel fare perhaps this shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Still, they might be working with newer technology for the future, but that's no excuse for a lacklustre piece of pre-transitional pap like this.

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It's a shame that the voice talent involved isn't really given anything to work with. There are certainly plenty of distinctive vocal strains to be had among the cast, but with a script flatter than a plane of parallax there is very little room for manoeuver for anyone involved. Dench is there purely to sound matronly, Tilly to sound a little dozy, Buscemi weaselly, Quaid maniacal and Barr, well, large and obnoxious really. Nobody seems to have been brought on board for talent, a fact compounded by the animator's decision to have Buscemi's (and, arguably Barr's) character's appearance as a caricature of his own. If the face fits, draw it, and that should tell you all you need to know about the level of inventiveness involved here.There's precious little of the standard buddy-buddy bickering to be had, and while that would normally be a good thing here we are left hankering for it as something familiar in lieu of something entertaining. Even Maggie's introduction as a force of friction between the other characters doesn't actually serve any purpose, and I should think having your main named star inhabit a character without any identifiable role in proceedings would be a cause for concern.

How much of the blame is to rest on the shoulders of writer / directors Will Finn and John Sanford is debatable, since their script should never have been green-lighted in the first place. The problem seems to be Disney's increasing apathy in sacrificing creativity for quick profit. Hell, they've got Pixar (for the meantime) with all their fancy computer trickery, and Studio Ghibli distribution means they can slap their name on Japan's most imaginative and creative output with no internal effort at all, so why should they give a hoot? A lot of people will be hoping that the departure of Disney CEO and his replacement by Robert Iger will herald a return to the creativity of old where Disney ruled the roost rather than bought out the competition to survive. On the evidence of Home On The Range the new guy better get his skates on.

I award this movie 2 out of 5 Units We Use

Will Finn and John Sanford
Cast list:
Roseanne Barr (Maggie)
Dame Judy Dench (Mrs. Calloway)
Randy Quaid (Alameda Slim)
Cuba Gooding Jr. (Buck)