Robin Clifford Laura CliffordPatch of Heaven dairy farm, run by kindly Pearl (voice of Carole Cook), is an idyllic place where seldom is heard a discouraging word. That is until two things happen: a brazen show cow named Maggie (voice of Roseanne Barr) descends upon the ranch as its newest member and Sheriff Brown (voice of Richard Riehle), on his arrogant horse Buck (voice of Cuba Gooding, Jr.), comes bearing bad news. Unless she comes up with $750 in three days, Pearl will lose the farm and all of the creatures she protects. It is up to the farm’s bovines to get the money and save the ranch in “Home on the Range.”
The animation industry has gone through some huge changes over the last decade as the computer-generated imagery (CGI) has taken dominance over the old fashioned hand drawing. Walt Disney Studios challenges this domination with its latest traditional 2-D action adventure anime – and, once again, comes out on top.
Maggie’s owner lost his farm after the infamous cattle rustler, Alameda Slim (voice of Randy Quaid), and his gang, the Willie brothers (voice of Sam J. Levine), stole his herd and the bank foreclosed on the rancher’s property. Now broke, the poor cattleman can no longer take care of his sassy cow and gives her into Pearl’s care. But, dark clouds loom over Patch of Heaven when they learn of their own predicament with the bank. Pearl, in despair, is at her wits end over what to do. Her prize cow, Mrs. Calloway (Judi Dench), a very proper Brit bovine, wants to stick by her owner’s side, but Maggie has other plans.
When the third Patch bovine, Grace (voice of Jennifer Tilly), sides with Maggie’s plan – go into town, get Buck’s help to get an extension from the bank, enter the upcoming county fare, win first prize and pay off the mortgage – and Mrs. Calloway reluctantly agrees to join in the quest. Once in town, though, they learn that there is no chance in getting an extension but they also learn that there is a reward for the capture of Alameda Slim - $750!! Maggie comes up with Plan B: hook up with a chuck wagon, join a cattle herd, get rustled and capture the notorious thief. A piece of cake.
The plan works flawlessly, except for one thing. Slim is a yodeler and uses his hypnotic talent to mesmerize almost every one of the cattle but for one – Grace, who, fortunately for the trio, is tone deaf and immune to Slim’s siren song. Meanwhile, Buck hooks up with the famous bounty hunter, Rico (voice of Charles Dennis), and joyfully ports his new master on his hunt for the rustlers. It becomes a race against the clock and each other as the cows test their mettle, with the help of a peg-legged rabbit named Lucky Jack (voice of Charles Haid), against the mesmerizing Alameda Slim and the unexpected treachery of Rico.
“Home on the Range” has those qualities, whether in cel drawing or CGI, which represents terrific, for-all-ages family entertainment. The film starts out light enough with Maggie and her owner hitting the road. “California or bust” says the sign on their wagon and we learn the real situation. One by one, the local ranchers are being robbed of their cattle and, without income, lose their ranches to be bought up at a discount by the mysterious Mr. Y. O’Del. Then we find out that Patch of Heaven is the only property left and it looks like that will be lost to the speculator’s greedy clutches. With all the subterfuge, thievery, treachery, a flash flood and other dangers, the subject matter will have resonance for older kids and beyond.
Remember, though, that this is a Disney animation with barnyard animals as heroic figures, lots of bright colors, catchy tunes (at least for the younger kids) and silly humor that will appeal to the diminutive crowd for repeated viewings. The slapstick humor is on par with the best of Warner Brothers’s Roadrunner and Coyote cartoons from the 1950’s – this is especially well done during the opening credits sequence when we meet the capable but extremely unlucky Lucky Jack.
Two long time animators, Will Finn and John Sanford, make their feature film debut as directors and screenwriters with a fresh, delightful take on that old western staple – save the ranch. This duo and their creative teams of animators and vocal talents have crafted an imaginative rip roarin’, action packed yarn. The colorful, amusing characters are coupled with six original songs by eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater that will entertain the kiddies (although I did not find the songs too memorable). The quality of the cel animation is classically accomplished with great attention to character expression and background details.
Of course, high quality animation needs equally high quality voices and “Home on the Range” excels in this aspect. Roseanne Barr is perfect as the voice of Maggie. The comedienne gives the right tone of impudence to the corpulent three-time Golden Udder Award winner. Dame Judi Dench lends dignity to straw-hatted Mrs. Calloway who may be a bit too formal but has it in her to lay it on the line to help save her mistress’s farm. Jennifer Tilly rounds out this bovine trio as the ditzy, tone-deaf, holistic Grace. Tilly’s off-key rendition of “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” is ear piercingly amusing.
Besides the well-voiced lead triumvirate, the supporting vocal cast is richly fleshed out. Cuba Gooding, Jr., combined with the great animation of Buck, makes the ambitious horse, “a legend in his own mind” according to Mrs. Calloway, a hero in the end. Randy Quaid is first class as the artistic criminal, Alameda Slim, and his alter ego. Sam J. Levine’s voicing of the none-too-bright Willie Brothers provides some very funny comic relief in a film loaded with humor. Charles Haid, too, does a fine job giving Lucky Jack a voice that suits the character perfectly. Even Governor Ann Richards does her bit as the owner of a dance hall that the cows invade in their mission to save Pearl’s Patch of Heaven. The rest of the characters are given vocal attention that one rarely sees anymore in animation.
The humor runs the gamut from silly slapstick for the kids to some very witty one-liners that, many times, made me laugh out loud. The filmmakers even pay homage to Edward G. Robinson in “Little Caesar” with the line from that great gangster movie. “Home on the Range” is the kind of movie that will have the adults, especially those with kids (and, who may not have much choice), watching it again and again to get all of the jokes not meant for little children comprehension. This mixture of child and adult humor is skillfully blended in the Finn and Sanford script.
If you are of a mind to catch a rip snortin’, very funny, action-adventure with thrills, spills and a great deal of heart, then do I have a movie for everyone – and it is only 76 minutes long. This is true “fun for all ages” and I give “Home on the Range” an A-.
Maggie (Roseanne Barr) is a dairy show cow at the Dixon Ranch until its entire herd is stolen one night by the West's Most Wanted, Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid, "The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle"). After his ranch is foreclosed, Maggie's heartbroken owner Abner gives her to Pearl (Carole Cook, "The Incredible Mr. Limpet"), who runs the idyllic dairy farm known as "Patch of Heaven." No sooner has Maggie locked horns with Pearl's fastidious bovine hat-wearer Mrs. Caloway (Judi Dench, "Shakespeare in Love") than she's faced with the foreclosure of the home she hasn't even settled into. Backed by younger cow Grace (Jennifer Tilly, "Monsters, Inc."), Maggie convinces Mrs. C to try and beat bounty hunter Rico (child actor and playwright Charles Denis) in the race to capture Slim and save the farm in "Home on the Range."
Disney's CEO, Michael Eisner, has declared traditional cel animation dead, but there is plenty of life in the exuberant "Home on the Range." While the kids get to watch loads of colorful animal characters engage in all sorts of adventures, adults will be tickled by loads of in jokes.
As the film's opening credits run to its first new song, we see a hapless rabbit given the Wile E. Coyote treatment as herds are driven across the prairie. Roseanne Barr, our narrator, introduces Maggie with 'That's me. I'm a cow.'
This style of irreverent humor is woven throughout this 'save the farm' saga. Visual gags include three hens simultaneously laying eggs upon being introduced to Maggie, and the peg-legged Lucky Jack (Charles Haid, TV's "Hill Street Blues"), the aforementioned rabbit who lost his foot for the luck it brought. Dialogue is spiked with witticisms ('It's a chick thing' Grace tells Maggie after Mrs. C is brought low by the accusatory looks of four baby hens) and punny references to zodiac symbols, Glen Campbell tunes and Dreamworks animations. Bounty hunter Rico appears to have been named just for the delight the filmmakers got from using an immortal Edward G. Robinson line from "Little Caesar." Grace gets to quote Mae West. The standoff between Maggie and Slim, with Slim framed in the landscape beneath Maggie's ponderous udders, is a comical take on classic spaghetti Westerns.
Casting Roseanne Barr against Judi Dench was a stroke of genius - the oil and water nature of this combination perfectly fits their characters, with Maggie being a loud mouthed, vulgar entertainer who puts the refined Mrs. C into high dudgeon. Jennifer Tilly is equally right for the naive, off-key peacemaker Grace. Cuba Gooding Jr. ("Radio") fares better as the voice of Buck, an egotistical, karate practicing horse, than he has in recent film roles. Other talents on hand include Joe Flaherty ("National Security") as Jeb, a stubborn old goat who presides over a pile of cans, story contributor Sam Levine as the voice of Slim's three dimwitted nephews and Texas Governor Ann Richards as a saloon owner. The animators do a terrific caricature match for Steve Buscemi ("Big Fish") as Slim's oily partner in crime Wesley.
The debut feature directing team of Will Finn (Supervisor of Disney characters Cogworth and Iago) and John Sanford (story developer "Atlantis," "Lilo & Stitch") shepherd their characters through brawls, floods and runaway trains while developing loyalties against heartland issues still relevant today (OK, maybe not the herd hijacking). The film's only weakness is the work of usually reliable composer/songwriter Alan Menken ("Beauty and the Beast"), who fails to come up with a memorable tune this time around. That failing is shored up by employing such exceptional vocal talents as k.d. lang and Bonnie Raitt. The best musical moment is a psychedelic song and dance number that showcases Slim's ability to hypnotize cows with his yodelling. Yee-haw.
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