Original Release: April 2, 2004
Runtime: 76 Minutes
Directed By: Will Finn and John Sanford
Notable Actors: Roseanne Barr, Judi Dench, Jennifer Tilly, Cuba Gooding Jr., Randy Quaid and Steve Buscemi
Moooooove over folks because Vault Disney is back with the next film in the Disney animated classics line. Although, this week we might be playing fast and loose with the word “classic.” Home on the Range takes a step back from all the epic, technology changing films we’ve watched over the past couple of months. It’s a film that seems as though it might have been right at home in the early days of Disney. It’s a film that makes lots of jokes about udders. “Yeah, they’re real.” Ugh. Many have called this a low point for Disney, but is it really all that bad. Maybe there’s moooooore to this one than meets the eye. Let’s take a look.
Mike Gabriel originally pitched the idea that would become Home on the Range even before he pitched Pocahontas. The project, entitled Sweating Bullets was a supernatural western all about a scared little cowboy who goes to visit a ghost town and must confront a cattle hustler named Slim. Eventually, the cowboy would become a little bull by the name of Bullets. He yearned to be more like the horses who led the heard. Like many projects at Disney near this time, production went far too long and in 2000, in hopes of salvaging the project, which was about to be dropped, Mike Gabriel and co-director Mike Giaimo were taken off the project, sighting the fact that the story kept running into problems. Will Finn, who had just finished the Road to El Dorado, returned to take over the project, which was finally changed to be a story of three cows who became bounty hunters to save their farm; a long stretch from little Bullets and his plight.
Alan Menken composed the music for the film, as part of his fulfillment of his contract with Disney. He eventually would write the first six songs of the film with award winning lyricist Glenn Slater. The song, “Little Patch of Heaven,” would eventually make it into the film and was performed by K. D. Lang. Following the September 11 attacks, Menken composes the song “Will the Sun Ever Shine Again.” This was eventually performed by Bonnie Raitt.
I want to make very clear that while this film has been dragged through the mud and often called one of Disney’s worst, I actually don’t think that it is a terrible movie. The real trouble is that it just doesn’t appeal to adults the same way that it appeals to kids. The story follows Maggie, a show cow who gets sold off by her owner to the Little Patch of Heaven farm and then goes on to help the farm’s resident cows, Mrs. Caloway and Grace as they try to save the farm from being sold off. Maggie seems to be the end all be all of the adult oriented humor. She’s sort of bitter and sarcastic and thinks she is better than everyone. She’s a worldly woman among a crowd of sheltered animals.
Unfortunately all of the other humor in the film is some form of slapstick. In fact, once the film gets going, I was hard pressed to go five minutes without seeing someone get punched, kicked and slammed with a metal dish in the face. I saw teeth get broken and then get rebroken. Over and over again. The gags just keep coming and you can bet it gets old fast.
I actually like the characters. They’re all pretty fun and quirky. The most fun character to watch is Buck who dreams of being a hero horse only to find out that the bounty hunter he has been trying to team up with is actually a bad guy. It’s one of the better story moments of the film and shows Buck as one of the only characters who really gets a full out story arc. He also does a lot of martial arts, which, while slap stick, is pretty fun to watch.
Alameda Slim proves to be a villain with more motivation than most before him. He wants to buy up all the land and I think he does it pretty skillfully, steeling cows to sell them and then buying out that now defunct land from the owner. He’s pretty smart and the fact that he controls cows by yodeling is fairly unique. It’s a shame that this film is not as well known or cared about because I actually think it showcases one of the more original and interesting villains that we’ve seen in some time.
There’s not too much more to say about Home on the Range. It’s not horrible, but it’s also not great and it relies on a brand of humor that lacks wit or real honest laughs. Furthermore, it landed at a bad time for films in general and was overshadowed by the solid gold that Pixar was now shelling out. While the characters are cute and the story is definitely not the worst that we’ve seen, it’s just too simple and lacks enough charm and wit to match up to others of its kind, like The Emperor’s New Groove. Home on the Range showed a low point for Disney and the beginning of an identity crisis as the company tried to figure out what they were doing with their animation studios. It would be the last hand animated film for a while and was also the last to be released on VHS. The times were changing and stumbles were bound to happen.
With that being said, if you haven’t watched this film, I urge you too. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. This Sunday we’ll be doing a bit of a flash forward with a Vault Disney article all about Zootopia, which I am head over heels excited to see. See you then and welcome back!
NEXT UP: Chicken Little
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NOTE: Obviously all the photos are courtesy of Disney Entertainment and I would never in a million years claim them as my own. That being said, all are actually taken with my phone during our viewing in order to capture the moment in a slightly different way than originally intended.
ALSO: My Fiancee has a blog too and he is talking about all the classics we are currently watching, which involves more than just Disney. Head overHERE and check it out!