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written and directed by Will Finn & John Sanford
by Walter Chaw It opens with a musical number and a rabbit with a peg leg--and what feels like days later, Home on the Range ends with an ear-splitting action sequence featuring Cuba Gooding Jr. typecast as an over-animated pack animal. Meanwhile, a crass two-dimensional cow is typecast as Roseanne, her prize heifer Maggie introduced onscreen udder-first: "Yeah, they're real, quit staring." Real nice. And the intrigue, such as it is, revolves around yodeling cattle rustler Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid) narrowing his sights on the bucolic Patch of Heaven ranch, no-kill home of stock chickens ("It's a chick thing," hardy har har), a duck, a goat, and some swine.
Needless to say, the unholy trinity of Roseanne, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Jennifer Tilly (playing a skinny blonde bovine against type) are a nightmare trio in any combination, and no matter the satirical justice of their respective animated alter egos, there should still be some sort of warning in the marketing. The voice-acting is as insufferable in Home on the Range as it is in Brother Bear as it is in Ice Age as it is in any DreamWorks project, really, marking this frontier as yet another way in which American animation lags behind Japanese anime: actual fluency sacrificed at the altar of "recognizable" "talent." Speaking of which, the animation style so closely apes classic Looney Tunes backdrops that it represents a pathetic full circle harking back to the end of the Thirties when Uncle Walt's pathological reticence to credit his talent resulted in a mass exodus to Warner Bros., its chief rival and, at least in the realm of animated shorts, eventual better. More, it reminds of the practice in the Thirties at the Magic Kingdom of pulling top animators to work on pet projects, leaving garbage just like Home on the Range to obviously sub-par attention.
Following cow trio Maggie, Grace (Jennifer Tilly), and Mrs. Calloway (Judi Dench) on their quest to capture the villain, collect the bounty, and buy Patch of Heaven back from the bank, the picture is a deeply disinteresting, occasionally discomfiting animated misfire of the first order. If Disney shareholders need any more ammunition for the ouster of Michael Eisner (after the twin howitzers of the loss of Pixar and the release of Brother Bear), look no farther, as Home on the Range, besides being lazily animated and unforgivably rote, also boasts of a scene where our three girls are vaguely menaced by the promise of gang rape. Double entendres and less subtle sexual jabs rule the day ("I've got two words for you boys: cold shower") with burp jokes and stallion Buck's (Gooding Jr.) slapstick Ace Ventura shtick taking up the plentiful slack. The rationale for racy asides in children's entertainment is probably somewhere along the line of wishing to provide something for uneducated, working class parents roped into taking in the matinee with their unwashed pups--making said rationale patronizing and cynical. The relative failure of the appalling The Cat in the Hat should have put to rest the idea that obnoxious inappropriateness in kid's films is the golden ticket for crossover appeal.
The mysterious alchemy of Finding Nemo (intelligence, artistry, respect, relevance) seems, now, available for Disney only by accident (Lilo & Stitch) or by association (Pixar, the Saturday morning spin-off Teacher's Pet). While Home on the Range doesn't boast of anything nearly so heinous as The Cat in the Hat's snarky spelling of "shit" (nor does its smarmy undercurrent approach that film's bald leering), it does manage to be considerably more boring, spacing its gags with the miserly jealousy of the genuinely uninspired. Home on the Range is awful and low. I've got to believe that there are ways to entertain your three-year-old that don't involve a sapping of imagination, a ratcheting of hyperactivity, and an implanting of mixed messages.
by Bill Chambers Disney releases Home on the Range on DVD in a THX-certified presentation. Transferred anamorphically at 1.66:1 (the "family-friendly" aspect ratio), the film looks superlative on the format despite a wildly fluctuating bitrate. Colours are eye-popping without bleed, and edge-enhancement--sometimes ruinously employed by the folks at Disney--is negligible. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundmix uses the rear discretes cannily when it does (the train climax is a highlight) but fails to dazzle like the image; bass sinks pretty low for a kid's movie. Bonus material includes five deleted scenes (totalling 16 minutes) with video intros/apologias from co-directors Will Finn and John Sanford; a crude mix of storyboards and pencil animation, these elisions show that there was always a worse idea around the corner (Mariachi butterflies? A rustler hypnotizing cows to...storm Washington and run for President?), confirming not that good taste prevailed, but that it was in short supply. Another one-shot Disney band, The Beu Sisters, performs the song "Anytime You Need a Friend" in a soulless video while "Backstage Disney" contains not only an always-welcome "Art Review" (10 mins.) tracking the project's stylistic evolution (narrated this time by art director David Cutler and background-department head Cristy Maltese), but also "Trailblazers: The Making of Home on the Range" (17 mins.).
Each of the latter two supplements touches on the film's metamorphosis from the "Sleepy Hollow"-esque Sweatin' Bullets into an "undercow" story that would mark the return of Katzenberg-era composer Alan Menken, who reveals in his interview that he used Home on the Range as a platform for addressing his feelings about 9/11. (If likening a cartoon in which three farting cows try to save a farm from foreclosure to a terrorist attack that killed thousands isn't textbook Ugly American-ness, I don't know what is--and Menken bats a .1000 by heralding the "intrinsically American voice" of Canadian-born k.d. lang.) Proud of having made only the second Disney animated feature to net a PG rating (the first was The Black Cauldron), Finn, Sanford, and producer Alice Dewey evince an essential misunderstanding of irreverence in their film-length commentary ("Belches. They're funny. Get over it," Sanford says), which rounds out the disc alongside a Home on the Range-themed refashioning of "The Three Little Pigs" (A Dairy Tale: The Three Little Pigs (4 mins.)), the punchline gallery "The Joke Corral," a "Yodel Mania!" section encompassing a "Yodel Memory!" game and the superficial "Yodelmentary" (3 mins.), and 'sneak peeks' at Aladdin, Mulan, The Magical World of Winnie the Pooh, Pooh's Heffalump Movie, Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas, "Toontown Online," and the Home on the Range soundtrack CD.
76 minutes; PG; 1.66:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, French DD 5.1; CC; English subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Disney