Monday, January 21, 2013

Home on the Range (2004) - Roseanne Plays a Cow

Home on the Range: Roseanne Barr versus Randy Quaid

Home on the Range 2004
"Home on the Range" (2004).
"Home on the Range" (2004), directed by Will Finn and John Sanford for Walt Disney Feature Animation, is a hand-drawn animation feature (using the CAPS computer process) that came out during a string of Disney film disappointments at the box office. The animation field had completely changed over the previous decade, and Disney movies were having trouble keeping pace.

Home on the Range 2004

"Home on the Range" is pleasant enough, but it couldn't complete with the new franchise films and solo hits that year from other studios like "Ice Age," "Shrek 2" and "The Incredibles." Despite being headlined by popular television comedienne Roseanne Barr, "Home on the Range" got lost in the shuffle among all those classic hits and never found its audience. As a comedy, the laughs are relatively few, but undemanding viewers may enjoy the notion of talking cows plotting revenge against a cattle rustler.

Maggie's udders Home on the Range 2004
Maggie confronts a visitor.
Cattle rustler Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid) raids the Dixon ranch, getting every cow except Maggie (Barr). Mr. Dixon sells Maggie to Pearl (Carole Cook), a sweet older lady who runs the "Patch of Heaven" farm. Sheriff Sam, though, soon arrives and warns her that the local bank that holds the mortgage on her property is threatening to foreclose. Pearl has three days to come up with $750, or he will have to sell the farm. Maggie convinces her fellow cows Grace (Jennifer Tilly) and Mrs. Calloway (Judi Dench) to help Pearl find the money so that she can save her farm.

Pearl's farm Home on the Range 2004
Maggie and friends leaving A Patch of Heaven.
The trio heads to town to see if they can win prize money at a fair. While there, Rico the bounty hunter (Charles Dennis) stops at the sheriff's office and drops off a fugitive, collecting the reward. He needs a rested horse, so he obtains the sheriff's horse, Buck (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) and prepares to track down Alameda Slim as his next project. Hearing about this, Maggie tells her friends that they can save the farm if they can just track Slim down for the $750 reward.

Maggie, Grace and Mrs. Calloway Home on the Range 2004
Maggie and friends.
Going undercover among a large herd of cattle, Maggie and her friends wait for Slim. He appears, and promptly starts a yodeling song that puts all of the animals into a trance except for Grace, who is tone-deaf. Grace snaps her two friends out of their trances, and the three wait as Slim creates a rockslide that prevents Rico or anyone else from following him and his stolen steer.

Rico, Buck and the Sheriff Home on the Range 2004
The sheriff doesn't look very intimidating.
Maggie and the others find Rico and start talking to his horse, Buck, who is an old friend. Buck gets carried away telling an old story and starts acting out past events, making Rico mistakenly believe that Buck is afraid of cows. Rico, who needs a horse who is comfortable around cattle, takes Buck back to the sheriff, but Buck, determined to prove his worth, escapes. Maggie and her group, meanwhile, find a peg-legged rabbit named Lucky Jack (Charles Haid) who leads them to Slim's hideout, an abandoned mine.

Rico and Buck Home on the Range 2004
Rico has come for his bounty.
Slim then reveals his sinister master plan: he steals cattle from people he knows, then uses the money he gets from selling the animals to buy the properties when they are auctioned off. When buying land he goes under the alias "Mr. O'Delay." Maggie and her friends promptly capture Slim, but Slim's gang and a buyer chase them onto a steam train. Rico arrives, but it turns out that he works for Slim. Slim escapes and heads off to the auction as Mr. O'Delay, but Maggie and friends drive the train to the farm and confront Slim in front of everyone.

Maggie, Buck, Rusty, Mrs. Calloway, Grace Home on the Range 2004
Maggie and friends planning their next move.
The animation process for "Home on the Range" was well-developed by this point, having been introduced in "The Rescuers Down Under" and used for well over a decade in hits like "Tarzan." Other studios like Pixar, though, were moving past this creaking technology, so "Home on the Range" was the last film for a while which used traditional animation at all. Some complain that the animation in "Home on the Range" is garish, but others think that the visuals are a high point of "Home on the Range." It certainly is full of color and multiplane effects that give the scenery a somewhat flat look, but with great background detail. The 2D animation is of high quality, it just isn't to everyone's taste.

Alameda Slim Home on the Range 2004
The colors in "Home on the Range" are very vivid.
A bigger problem with "Home on the Range" is the script by directors . The year 2004 was a high point in animation due to a large number of high-concept films released that year, and "Home on the Range" has a very simple story that could have been told equally well in the 19th Century. In that sense, it is similar to the failed "Treasure Planet," whose story actually was adapted from a story of that time. Character development in "Home on the Range" is thin, as there is an entire farm full of characters who each need a little time to make their appearance and give their background.

Home on the Range 2004

"Home on the Range" might, even then, have worked as a children's Disney movie, but there is an element of crudeness that seeps through "Home on the Range" that probably stems from Roseanne's uniquely confrontational form of comedy. The film opens with a shot of Maggie's udders, who then says somewhat salaciously (for a kid's Disney movie), "Yes, they're real, quit staring," which must make no sense at all to anyone below the age of about eight.

Maggie and friends Home on the Range 2004
I've never seen a sky quite that color before.
Alan Menken, who hit his high point in his collaborations with the late Howard Ashman, is around to provide the score, which is perfectly adequate but certainly not in the league of, say, his classic "Beauty and the Beast" numbers. Country singers k.d. lang and Bonnie Raitt sing a couple of country songs, but there isn't anything that is going to send you home snapping your fingers, and the characters themselves don't sing anything as used to be the norm. When you combine the relatively weak score with the weak slapstick, the thin plot and the debatable animation, there really isn't much of a draw to "Home on the Range" beyond crude jokes.

barn animals Home on the Range 2004
All of the animals posed for a group shot.
There are some nice moments in "Home on the Range," as in any Disney movie. Alameda has three dim-witted nephews who provide some light comic relief, but there big-name comedians in "Home on the Range" who should be doing that. There is a lot of what can best be described as mordant barnyard humor:
“Jeb: Well, I think we all know what happens now!
Mrs. Calloway: Jeb, don’t start!
Jeb: Now we all get eaten!
Mrs. Calloway: Jeb!
Audrey: But who would eat a chicken?”
The fundamental issue with crafting an animated film like "Home on the Range" that appears solidly targeted at a specific demographic (here, Middle America) is that, because the tale is not organic to the storytellers or the process, the plot becomes formulaic and relies on stereotypes (you don't get any triter than a "helping the widow save her farm" plot). Slim is the standard dastardly villain, Buck is the standard eager young hero desperate to prove himself, and so on. You might expect this Disney movie to suddenly shake off the corn and reveal itself as some sort of arch parody or satire - but it doesn't. If you like Roseanne's brand of comedy, though, this is a good film to see, because she gets off her share of acid-tongued one-liners that are, as usual, delivered with great timing.

Alameda Slim Home on the Range 2004
Randy Quaid is great as the dastardly Slim
If you are looking for an animated Western and already have seen "An American Tail: Fievel Goes West," you might want to try "Home on the Range." It will help a lot for your enjoyment, though, if you are a fan of the leads, who all have distinctive personalities that some find amusing and others, well, don't.

Home on the Range 2004


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