To save their farm, the resident animals go bounty hunting for a notorious outlaw.To save their farm, the resident animals go bounty hunting for a notorious outlaw.To save their farm, the resident animals go bounty hunting for a notorious outlaw.
Nice visuals, otherwise unexceptional
While the film wasn't a total dud a la "Treasure Planet," it's certainly no "Little Mermaid," or even "Emperor's New Groove," which I consider the best of the latest crop of cartoons for its hip sensibility. "Home on the Range" suffers from an unoriginal and unfunny script, although it is not tediously poor or Saturday-morning-cartoon simple. To begin, there is an overabundance of plastic-playset ready characters (literally a whole farm full): the trio of bounty-hunting heifers played by Roseanne Barr, Judi Dench, and Jennifer Tilly; the yodeling cattle rustler Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid) and his three bumbling nephews; the wannabe-hero steed Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr-- who ok'ed that name?); two lascivious bulls; a buffalo bouncer; a peg-legged jackrabbit; and a whole farmyard of pigs, chickens, a goose, and a surly goat. Oh, and Steve Buscemi shows up too, as a caricature of himself in a purple suit and a pencil moustache. Estelle Harris and Patrick Warburton (so memorable in "Toy Story 2" and "Groove," respectively), had brief cameos as well. There's no time for any kind of character development (not even with a sacred Disney "I Want" song), and the thinnest of premises has the cows hunting for Slim in time to get the reward money to save their farm. I was surprised not by the simplicity but by the unnecessary, unfunny bawdiness of the script (the movie opens with a shot of the Barr cow's ample udders, with her voiceover dryly remarking "Yep, they're real. Quit staring." Crossdressing, pee, and fat man jokes follow.) Alan Menken wrote a few snappy but unmemorable tunes (none of which are sung by the characters, but by the likes of Bonnie Raitt and k.d. lang) and a Coplandesque score. The film redeems itself in its art direction, which bursts with Disney color and retro UPA-style angularity. Especially in the opening scenes, a multiplane effect is used to further flatten, rather than deepen, this storybook world. It's an interesting and visually engaging concept that works well for the story. Backgrounds are intricately detailed with drybrush effects that call to mind "Sleeping Beauty;" if that film's art director, Eyvind Earle, had been called upon to paint the rocks and buttes of the American desert, it would have looked very much like this. It's quite stunning, actually, and the best art direction since 1996's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." I especially appreciated a background detail in the town scene: one of the buildings was actually only a facade, held up by supports like on a backlot Western set. Similarly, sooner or later, not just critics but parents too will demand the Disney animated features to show that they have something behind that venerable name. "Home on the Range" will tide us over for now, but a renaissance of Disney is getting to be overdue. The Disney animation department (what's left of it), like it or not, needs to take a cue from Pixar and strive for family-friendly originality if they hope to maintain the integrity of the brand. ***
- Apr 11, 2004
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