2004’s Home on the Range might have been a historical movie in the Disney canon, as it was their “last” planned traditionally animated feature. Of course, 2009’s The Princess and the Frog came along not five years later, but that’s beside the point. After Home on the Range, a Will Finn and John Sanford film, Disney headed into CGI territory and fumbled the ball significantly with the disastrous Chicken Little.
I didn’t have much hope for Home on the Range, to be honest, as I haven’t generally been impressed with Disney’s flicks from the era. I went into it with my arms crossed, but I found myself immensely entertained by this animated musical western. It is a film that probably shouldn’t work, all things considered, but Disney’s standoffish approach actually functions to its benefit and it rides a simple trail.
Home on the Range focuses on the adventures of three cows: Maggie (Roseanne Barr), Mrs. Calloway (Judi Dench) and Grace (Jennifer Tilly). The three cows ride off into the sunset to try to save their beloved farm from foreclosure and certain doom at the hands of a predatory land-grabber named Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid).
The story also includes a wannabe lead horse named Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr.) looking for his big break and a slew of other supporting animals playing their various roles either helping or holding back our gallant bovines.
Home on the Range employs a simple and joyous style when it comes to animation. It has a certain zany appeal that kind of feels like an old school Looney Tunes cartoon crossed with a Roy Rogers western. Unabashedly goofy, this film gathers strength from its absolutely ludicrous line-up of characters and never lets up on the confident cheerfulness.
Looking at the array of voice actors here, I didn’t really expect to enjoy much of anything. Yet Barr, Tilly, Gooding Jr., and Quaid bring a sort of humble charm to their roles and they put a lot of good energy to it. Using Dame Judi Dench as a snobbish cow is a stroke of genius, though, and she creates one heck of an interesting, funny, charismatic character in Mrs. Calloway.
The songs, written by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, are actually quite good as well. They aren’t contagious in the way that some early Disney tunes are, but they do have a sort of homey charm that helps make them more memorable than most as of late. There’s some big name talent on board, too, including the amazing k.d. lang and Bonnie Raitt. Even ol’ crazy Quaid gets a tune, although I think he may have used a stunt yodeler.
For whatever reason, Home on the Range wasn’t all that well-received. It isn’t a revolutionary picture in any way, but it doesn’t try to be. The filmmakers seem to stand by the fact that they’re making an easygoing, light, airy motion picture that can be enjoyed with a big fat grin plastered on. Barr isn’t bothersome, the songs are satisfactory, the plot is humble, and the rest is just gravy. And honestly, who can beat Judi Dench?