Saturday, March 21, 2015


RELEASE DATE: Friday 2nd April 2004

Home On The Range is a comedy, but its release was met with nothing but sadness. Not only was the movie an average-tier Disney film in terms of quality, but it also heralded the end of the end. It had been announced that after Home On The Range, Disney would no longer be producing hand-drawn animated feature films.

Now, if Home On The Range had been a huge success, the situation might have turned around and we might still be watching traditionally animated films to this day. But it was a colossal failure. It somehow managed to make even LESS money than Treasure Planet. (And that's saying something!) Admittedly, it cost quite a bit less to MAKE than Treasure Planet, but it's still very telling on how audiences felt at the time.
So after Home On The Range deflated out of theatres, all of Disney's animators who had been employed by the company for decades packed up their belongings and looked for jobs elsewhere.
2D animation was dead at Disney... for the time being, anyway.

Home On The Range is set in the wild west, a location which hadn't been used in animation for a long time. (Just off the top of my head, I think the "Pecos Bill" segment in Melody Time was the last time Disney went there, although it was a very regular location for the Warner Bros. cartoons of the 1950s, particularly "Road Runner") In Home On The Range we quickly learn about a criminal named Alameda Slim, a cattle rustler who is currently at large.

We're then introduced to the most idyllic farm in the wild west, "Patch of Heaven," which is run by a farmer named Pearl. Pearl treats all of her animals like family, and everything in Patch of Heaven is perfect. The farm's two milking cows, Grace (Jennifer Tilly) and Mrs. Calloway (Judi Dench... Yes, Judi Dench...) are shocked at the arrival of an enormous show-cow named Maggie. (Roseanne Barr)

Maggie has only just arrived on the farm when Pearl receives an eviction notice. Since she can't afford to pay her debt to the bank, her farm will be sold off to the highest bidder in three days. Newcomer Maggie has the idea that if she and the other cows go into town they might be able to make some prize money at the fair. Grace decides to go with her, and Mrs. Calloway reluctantly follows.

Meanwhile in the town, the sheriff's horse Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is dreaming of the hero he wishes he could be.

When the cows arrive in town they cause a riot in the saloon, resulting in a massive bar brawl.

They find Buck, who has no intention of helping them. Suddenly the hero bounty hunter Rico arrives in town and tells the sheriff he needs a new horse to go after Alameda Slim. Buck is overjoyed at the chance to prove what a hero he can be!

As for the cows, they get tied to a Chinese settler's cart and taken away. As they're passing by Maggie's old farm, she sadly tells the other cows that after the other cattle had been poached by Slim, the farm had to be sold and she was left homeless. A bit further on, they find themselves among a big herd of cattle, many of who try their smoothest pickup lines on the three eligible ladies.

In the middle of the night, Alameda Slim appears, alongside his dim-witted nephews the Willie Brothers. Using the power of his yodeling, he puts all of the cattle in a trance, like a bovine pied piper!
Only a moment after Slim has escaped with the entire herd (minus the three Patch of Heaven cows) Rico and Buck arrive. Watching Buck act strange around the cows, Rico decides to send him back to the sheriff. The incensed Buck decides to chase after Slim himself, in an effort to prove his worth. The cows follow after him. Whoever catches Slim wins the reward money, which would be enough to save the farm.

Meanwhile, in his hideout in Echo Mine, Alameda Slim tells the Willie Brothers of his ultimate plan, which involves selling off cattle and buying up all of the land in the region. Unfortunately, the Willies are so short on brains, they don't even recognise their uncle when he is disguised as the property baron Y. O'dell.

After losing Buck's tracks, the cows find themselves caught in a flash-flood. Everything seems hopeless. Mrs. Calloway is furious at Maggie for bringing them so far away from home. Meanwhile, Pearl begins to pack up her belongings, facing the reality that she will soon have to leave her beloved home.

The morning brings the sun back. The cows are greeted by a rabbit called Lucky Jack, who is anything but lucky. (He seems to have lost all of his luck when he lost his leg...) He knows exactly where Slim's hideaway is, and promises to show the cows the way. Meanwhile, Slim is readying his latest herd to sell off to the crooked cattle-buyer Mr. Wesley.

When the cows arrive at Echo Mine, Buck has already made it to the entrance, but isn't being allowed in by the buffalo who is acting as bouncer. The cows hatch an elaborate plan to knock Slim unconscious and bring him to justice.

A madcap chase sequence takes place throughout the mines. In the end Slim is delivered to Rico.

Unfortunately, it turns out that Rico is on the payroll of Slim himself. Buck is heartbroken to discover that his hero is a bad guy. In the end his conscience gets the better of him. He tosses Rico off his back as Slim rides his buffalo at top-speed to Patch of Heaven, which in a few hours will be his.

Buck rescues the cows from their captivity and they then ride the train towards Patch of Heaven in the hopes of stopping Slim before he buys the farm!

Just as the auction is taking place, the cows arrive and have a wild western standoff with their nemesis.

Once Y. O'dell is revealed to be Alameda Slim, he is arrested and Pearl is given the money to save her farm. Everyone lives happily ever after in their own little Patch of Heaven.

IRVYNE: How wonderful would it have been if Disney had shown that it could still produce groundbreaking, entertaining and meaningful hand-drawn movies in 2004? Unfortunately, we got Home On The Range. Now this movie generally gets a pretty bad rap. Admittedly, it's not a Disney classic, and the main reason for this largely comes down to the characters, which are very two-dimensional (and I'm not talking about the art style!) and in some cases unlikeable.

Out of the three main cows, I think both Roseanne and Judi Dench were very badly cast. And I usually love Dame Judi. All three of the characters have very little personality beyond their basic traits. (Maggie is loud and obnoxious, Calloway is a grumpy stick-in-the-mud, and Grace is a new-age peacekeeper who can't sing)

Alameda Slim is a pretty cool villain, and his yodelling scene is so bizarre and off-the-wall it's actually kind of brilliant. But even he just becomes more a plot device than a character in the second half of the movie.

The one aspect of the film that works really, really well and is a joy to watch, is Buck the horse. A combination of Cuba Gooding Jr.'s voice work and Michael Surrey's animation results in a character that has great screen presence, excellent comic timing and a sense of zaniness that I wish the rest of the film has. He is easily the best character in the movie.
It's clear that with Home On The Range, Disney was trying to go for an Emperor's New Groove-style of madcap comedy with a dash of Looney Tunes. Unfortunately, Emperor's New Groove succeeded much better in this regard. It had better voice acting, much better characters and a story that was worth caring about. (It was also much, much funnier)

It's a shame, because there are some great, really off-the-wall concepts in here. Cows going on a mission to stop a cattle rustler who uses yodeling to hypnotise his targets? A rabbit who's lost his lucky foot and has been horribly unlucky ever since? You could hardly say you've seen this story before, and I can see the potential for something really great here. But a sizeable portion of the movie is actually quite sad and melancholy. I do wonder if that is a reflection of the film's creators facing the demise of their beloved artform.

There's no denying that Home On The Range was made on a much tighter budget than the lush and beautiful-looking Brother Bear and Treasure Planet. But like with The Emperor's New Groove, the simple and angular art style actually fits the type of movie quite well. There's some nice colour effects in the backgrounds, which owe more than a passing resemblance to the wide open vistas found in Road Runner cartoons. There's something very appealing about the wild west, and it's captured nicely here.

Everything is very cartoony and nothing is designed to look even remotely realistic. Most of the character animation is quite good, but I don't think it's among Disney's best character designs. Some of the angular edges are quite unattractive, to my eyes anyway. Mostly though, it looks quite good and everything suits the story's zany tone.

One of the most upsetting things about Home On The Range's extremely limited audience, is that there is a really great Alan Menken score here that hardly anyone knows about! Menken, the chameleon of music, had tackled '60s doo-wop style in Little Shop of Horrors, Caribbean calypso in The Little Mermaid, classic French musical theatre in Beauty and the Beast, Arabian-meets-big-band in Aladdin, Native American in Pocahontas, grand gothic in Hunchback of Notre Dame and gospel in Hercules. Now, seven years later, Menken returned to Disney to tackle a new genre, country-and-western. And once again, he proved that he could take any musical style and make fantastic songs with it!

The lyricist for this movie was Glenn Slater, who would go on to become a regular writing partner of Menken's. After this project, they would pair up for the Broadway productions of The Little Mermaid, Sister Act and Leap of Faith, as well as Disney's Tangled.

Home On The Range is an odd beast, in that most of its songs are sung over the top of the action, as had been the case with all of the animated films since Mulan, with the exception of one song which is directly sung by a character. (That character being the villain, Alameda Slim) None of the other characters sing. It's an odd irregularity, but it doesn't seem particularly out-of-place when you watch the movie.

The title theme "Home On The Range" is a yee-haw cowboy song (that actually has the words "yee-haw" in the lyrics) which serves to set the tone of the film right at the beginning. It also has a reprise later in the film.

The song "Little Patch of Heaven," sung by America's smoothest voice K.D. Lang, demonstrates how perfect life on Pearl's farm is. It's a wonderful song that should be on every Disney enthusiast's playlists.

Alameda Slim's song, "Yodel-Adle-Eedle-Idle-Oo," is sung by Randy Quaid, Slim's voice actor, although the yodeling parts were sung by a professional yodeler. It's an absolutely bonkers scene, and an absolutely bonkers song. Great stuff.

The last main song is called "Will The Sun Ever Shine Again," sung by country star Bonnie Raitt. This is the song that plays when every character is at their all-time low at the end of the second act. It's got a beautiful melody and really sad lyrics.

Two more songs, "Wherever The Trail May Lead"  and "Anytime You Need A Friend," are played over the end credits, but their melodies can also be found peppered throughout the backing score. The score is another Menken triumph. He uses the country-and-western style to tell his musical story, putting emotion and excitement into all the highs and lows.

After the mess that was the Brother Bear soundtrack, Home On The Range is a wonderfully consistent piece of work, and a joy to listen to.

The box office was certainly not kind to Home On The Range, and I'm afraid it's unlikely to gain much of a following in its later years. It's not great. There are elements of it that work wonderfully (like the character of Buck, and Menken's wonderful songs) but it is full of missed opportunities. I feel like this movie had the potential to be MUCH better than the finished product ended up being. It's often unfairly judged as being the film that killed traditional animation at Disney, but the writing was on the wall long before this movie was released. It's just a shame that it had to end on such a sour note. Having said that, I really don't mind watching it from time to time, and I find it a more enjoyable experience than watching Brother Bear.

SHENZI: It's such a weird concept for a movie.

HAKU: It definitely feels more kid-orientated. But it doesn't really feel original in any way.

IRVYNE: You've seen other films where cows go across the Wild West to catch a yodeling cattle-rustler...?

HAKU: No, I mean in the cliches and the style that they use. The bar-room brawl, the desert vistas, even the funny ones like when it suddenly goes Widescreen when Buck imagines he's in a movie. They take the cliches, but they don't do anything original with them.

MALEFICENT: It's a very colourful movie at least.
SHENZI: Something about it feels a bit like The Aristocats to me. You know, like all the animals going on some important mission.

HAKU: Yeah, it's a road movie. But the pacing feels a little bit off to me. And I don't buy Rosanne as a cow. At all.

IRVYNE: Agreed. I think she was horribly cast. Pretty much 100% of her comedy in this film falls flat. There's this bizarre moment where Maggie suddenly wakes up and says "Cheque please!" and then there's this awkward pause, as if they're waiting for a laugh from the audience. But it's not funny! I just feel like the creators had no real idea of comedy or timing with this character.

HAKU: And I'm not a fan of Judi Dench in this either.

SHENZI: It's like, "Let's get some big names to do voices without seeing if they can actually do a good job."

MALEFICENT: Well I actually like both Roseanne and Judi Dench's voices in this. In fact, all the voices have great charactarisation.
IRVYNE: I don't think Rosanne's line delivery is good at all, but one of the biggest glaring flaws is that neither Maggie or Mrs. Calloway are very likeable characters, and they're supposed to be the heroes. You've got the stick-in-the-mud character who is just frustratingly negative about everything, and you've got the overtly outgoing character who belches and makes lots of loud noises.

HAKU: On the other hand you've got Cuba Gooding Jr., who is great.

IRVYNE: Buck is the one character in Home On The Range who really works.

SHENZI: There are moments where Buck reminds me of Maximus in Tangled.

IRVYNE: It's amazing how many Disney horses there are! I wonder if anyone has ever lined them up side-by-side. You'd have an entire stable!

HAKU: And it's good to see Patrick Warburton get his little cameo. Even though that horse is only on screen for a few seconds, it's like having a horse-version of Kronk!

IRVYNE: There are so many characters that don't need to be in the story, like all of the animals on the farm. The goat, the pigs, the chickens, etc. They all take up film time, and yet they don't have anything to do with the plot except to get sold off. Likewise for the unlucky rabbit. Great concept (and I believe that character had a much larger role in the earlier version of the film) but he's not in the movie long enough to really leave any kind of impression. And at the end of the day he's really just a single-gag joke and not much more.

MALEFICENT: I love Alameda Slim. Who wouldn't love a yodeling bad guy? Haha. What a quirky plot twist!

IRVYNE: Interestingly, there's a rumour that it was originally going to be stated much more explicitly that Alameda Slim was selling the cows off to the slaughterhouse. The problem was, Disney had promotional contracts with McDonald's, and they didn't want the children looking into their Big Macs and suddenly realising where meat comes from. If that's true, it's hilarious.
Meanwhile, one thing that Home On The Range definitely has going for it, is a great soundtrack. For me, it's far-and-away the highlight of the movie. Menken does it again!

HAKU: The opening theme song is good. I also like the Bonnie Raitt song, the slow one. ("Will The Sun Ever Shine Again")
IRVYNE: It's a beautiful song, but it's so sad! I can remember hearing it for the first time on the soundtrack (which I have to admit, I bought before seeing the movie) and I thought this song was so appropriate for the hand-drawn animation department at Disney!
"Maybe soon the storm will be tired of blowing
Maybe soon it all will be over, amen
How do you go on, if there's no way of knowing
Will the sun ever shine again?"
It just seemed so fitting to hear this tragically sad song while thinking of all of the artists who were now out of a job, as the art form they'd dedicated their life to was thrown into the trash can. I mean, it's STILL got meaning. Hand-drawn movies made a little comeback in 2009-2010, but there's nothing new on the horizon, which is really sad.

HAKU: Anything 2D is on T.V. now.

IRVYNE: I live in hope that John Lasseter will put a new hand-drawn movie into production soon and it will be amazing. Anyway, getting back to the soundtrack... My favourite track is "Little Patch of Heaven." I could listen to K.D. Lang's voice any time, any place. She's got such a gift. And it's such a fun, jolly song with clever lyrics and a hugely catchy melody!

HAKU: I didn't mind Home On The Range too much, but it wouldn't be near the top of my list. It's almost like a throwback to some old Looney Tunes cartoons at some points, with the slapstick violence. And at other times it feels like it's trying to be an Emperor's New Groove kind of film. But it flags its intentions way too early and as a consequence it becomes really predictable. Compare it to The Emperor's New Groove, where you never quite know what's going to happen next.

IRVYNE: And the big difference between this and The Emperor's New Groove, is that The Emperor's New Groove is hilarious. This is not. It has a few moments that are worth a laugh, but mostly it's just trying to be funny without really succeeding. Having said that, I've showed it to groups of fairly young children, and they've loved it. It's just aimed at a different target market.

HAKU: Something about it feels a bit watered down and sanitized in a way.

IRVYNE: It almost feels like they started with a story, kept changing this and kept changing that, and eventually they've got something that is a mish-mash of a thousand different ideas, but the original story's been lost.

MALEFICENT: I don't hate Home On The Range, but it doesn't compare to other Disney classics.

SHENZI: It's not great.

IRVYNE: No, but it's still quite watchable. It just makes me sad that it heralded the end of 2D animation at the studio.

HAKU: That has nothing to do with the medium though, it's all to do with the storytelling. The reason Pixar was successful at the time was because they were telling their stories well and connecting with audiences.

IRVYNE: I 100% agree with you. And probably every Disney artist in the company would agree with you as well. But the big suits with the big pay-cheques would have looked at how badly the previous hand-drawn films had underperformed: Every 2D film since Tarzan had been a box-office bomb except for Lilo and Stitch which was only a moderate success... It still made nowhere near as much money as Dinosaur did. So the only conclusion they could come up with is that 2D animation is an expensive and fruitless artform. I definitely don't AGREE with them, but I can see where they were coming from.

SHENZI: What did you think of Home On The Range, Pascal...?

PASCAL: *mumble* *mumble* *zzzzzzz*


  1. Even I will admit that this was one of Disney's weaker hand-drawn films, and admittingly not one of my favorites. Even Princess and the Frog is a much stronger film. But you know something? I'd sooner come back to this movie than have anything to do with all those CG movies that have been corrupting Disney today. Tangled and Frozen can suck an egg, cause I hate them.

  2. Every 2D film? What about Emperor's New Groove, Brother Bear, Recess School's Out, The Jungle Book 2, Spirited Away, Return To Neverland, Howl's Moving Castle, and Pooh's Heffalump movie?