a critiQal film review Home on the Range (2004)

Plot: When her owner's bulls are bull-napped by notorious outlaw Alameda Slim (Quaid), Maggie the cow (Barr) is sent to stay at a little farm named Patch Of Heaven. There she meets two more cows: Mrs. Calloway (Dench) and Grace (Tilly). When Maggie finds out her new owner is going to lose Patch of Heaven, she convinces Mrs. Calloway and Grace to help her capture Slim and use the reward money to help keep their home.

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  • ...despite an idiotic plot twist and Roseanne's horrendous nails-on-a-chalkboard voice, this film nearly succeeds in winning the viewer's affection.

When we first saw previews for the new Disney film Home on the Range, we weren’t that interested. True we had been fooled before (Lilo & Stitch (2002) looked pretty bad in the previews too), but we were convinced this time that Home on the Range didn’t look to be up to the high standards of a Disney animated film. We knew we were going to eventually watch it on DVD, but had no desire to shell out the 8 bucks a pop to see it in theaters.

As the months went by, we kept finding other films to watch other than Home on the Range, and for a while, it looked like we would never get around to watching it. This past weekend, however, we finally broke down and rented it – still doubtful, but hoping for the best.

Roseanne Barr voices the main character Maggie – and is one of the reasons we weren’t looking forward to seeing Home on the Range. After all, her voice is her worst feature, with it’s high-pitched grating easily making it one of the most annoying voices in show biz today. Unfortunately, that hasn’t faded over the years, and will greatly distract anyone over the age of 10 watching the film.

Thankfully, the soothing voice of Judi Dench as Mrs. Calloway helps to counter that annoying whine in Home on the Range. Jennifer Tilly’s voice as third cow Grace almost seems to be a bad imitation of Roseanne’s hideous vocality, throwing in a bit of (probably) unintended humor that the viewers will enjoy (toss in the fact that the cow with the imitation Roseanne voice is a horrible singer, and most viewers will probably be chuckling already).

Although Randy Quaid voices the villain Alameda Slim decently, the real standout voices of Home on the Range belong to Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Buck, a horse yearning for adventure, and a special guest appearance by Steve Buscemi as a shady yet witty character named Wesley – who just so happens to look like a cartoonish Steve Buscemi. Plus, Patrick Warburton returns to Disney animated films (after playing Kronk in The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) and the upcoming Kronk’s New Groove (2005)) as Patrick, another horse, and steals the one scene of the film he’s in.

The plot of Home on the Range is very inventive. Who would have thought of making an animated film about cows going after a cattle rustler? Only Disney. While it’s original, it does fall back on the tried and true gimmicks that have worked for Disney in the past – to good effect yet again.

The humor derives a lot from the sidekicks of Home on the Range (namely, the other animals at the Patch Of Heaven farm), an old standard by this point for Disney. Thankfully, these sidekicks are just as fun as the sidekicks of past films, and will bring a good laugh or two in each of their scenes.

The plot does tend to drop into the 10-and-under territory as the cows discover how the villain is able to be such a successful cattle rustler (I usually try not to give away twists in films, but this one needs to be prepared for. Ready? Slim’s yodelling mesmerizes cows. Okay…now give that time to digest before you watch Home on the Range. That way you won’t think it’s so ridiculously stupid by the time you finally watch the film).

The animation isn’t quite up to the par the viewers have come to expect from Disney – it looks more like an early Dreamworks or Looney Tunes type animation, rather than the quality animation of, say, Beauty and the Beast (1991). It’s unfortunate for any older “kids” watching Home on the Range and expecting breathtaking animation, but it’s just fine for the younger kids.

Despite the idiotic plot twist mentioned above and Roseanne’s horrendous nails-on-a-chalkboard voice, Home on the Range managed to win us over – at least somewhat. While it’s not up there with the Disney classics of the past, it is an entertaining and funny 76 minutes that’s worth a rental if you’re a Disney fan.

Just remember to prepare yourself for that voice – it’s going to make you sh-udder.

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