On its release, Home on the Range carried the dubious distinction of signalling the death knell of 2D animation. Announced as the last primarily hand-drawn feature produced by Walt Disney feature animation (though 2009's The Princess and the Frog would buck the CGI system), Home on the Range balanced industry despair with good cheer--despite signs to the contrary, Disney still believed in happy endings.
This bouncy Western musical-comedy adventure is long enough on charm, but wisely short and sweet at 76 minutes. It's also totally bereft of innovation, retelling the old chestnut about a farm facing foreclosure by pumping it full of tried-and-true elements (hey! a mine-car track is a lot like a roller coaster!). The farm in question, called the "Patch of Heaven," can only be saved by its plucky barnyard denizens, rallied by new arrival Maggie; heading a familiar voices cast, Roseanne Barr gives the heifer her customary sass and a surprising amount of warmth.
Joined by spacy Grace (Jennifer Tilly) and harrumphing Mrs. Calloway (Judi Dench), Maggie heads into town and gets the threesome lassooed to a cattle drive in an attempt to bait a cattle rustler. If the cows can nab the bad guy, you see, they can collect enough reward money to save the Patch of Heaven. Complicating matters is a bounty hunter already on the trail and the karate-kicking stallion (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) who idolizes him and inexplicably spouts self-motivational James Brown grunts. Randy Quaid plays the baddie, Alameda Slim, who resembles a gigantic Yosemite Sam. A lowlife human voiced by Steve Buscemi and a Walter Huston-esque unlucky jackrabbit also join the fun.
One fundamental problem with the picture is its flirtation with older filmgoers; though parents will always find the tactic understandably welcome, the film is in danger of pleasing the adults more than the children, with its anachronistic, adult-minded quips (Maggie refers to her udder as "real--quit starin'!") and moody longueurs, one accompanied by a sad Bonnie Raitt vocal. Often enough, writer-directors Will Finn and John Sanford please both masters, as in a jokey reverie for Buck which finds him kicking ass in a sudden, spaghetti-western shift to Cinemascope.
The most distinctive element of an otherwise forgettable picture are the lovely songs by composer Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast) and lyricist Glenn Slater, abetted by country stars. Besides Raitt's ballad ("Will The Sun Ever Shine Again?"), Menken and Slater serve up the title theme, K.D. Lang sings the cheery "Little Patch Of Heaven," and Tim McGraw warbles "Wherever The Trail May Lead." Randy Quaid's Alameda Slim gets the splashiest number: "Yodel-Adle-Eedle-Idle-Oo," a yodelling roundup number with psychedelic visuals reminiscent of Dumbo's "Pink Elephants on Parade."
Naturally, the picture studiously sidesteps the not-so-nice realities of livestock (exceptions: Maggie says, "Don't everybody talk at once--what is this, the frozen foods section?" and a grumpy goat sputters, "They're stew meat" as the cows head into town). Gleefully, the filmmakers get in a dig at DreamWorks, when Maggie calls Buck "Stallion of the Cim-Moron," but Home on the Range is a good-natured, pleasant outing that looks like a pretty good option next to the overkill of Scooby Doo and its noisy live-action ilk. The prospect of a future of solely computer-generated creations had animation fans crying "Shane! Come back!" before long. With its colorful imagery, Home on the Range made a decent-enough short-term elegy.
Disney provides Home on the Range with a Blu-ray + DVD special edition for its hi-def debut. The blu-ray's A/V specs mark an improvement over standard-def, though the image does have a few noticeable digital artifacts, including aliasing, edge enhancement, and mild banding. Probably due to the film's vintage, the distinction between computer-generated elements and relatively soft hand-drawn elements can sometimes be glaring, with the latter occasionally taking on even something of a blurry aspect in some parts of the frame, though that's definitely a rare occurence. Despite such quibbles, the picture excels in color, black level and contrast, and detail, and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix doesn't disappoint, nicely maximizing the material with some LFE oomph and full-bodied treatment of the music.
The significant bonus features from earlier editions return here, including a pretty informative (though probably not very frank) audio commentary by producer Alice Dewey Goldstone and writers/directors Will Finn and John Sanford (to be found in the audio menu).
Four "Deleted Scenes" (14:57, SD) come with directors' introductions, and we get the "Music Video 'Anytime You Need a Friend'" (3:21, SD) by the Beu Sisters.
"Art Review" (10:15, SD) is a video gallery of research reference and concept and design art, with voice-over by art director David Cutler and background department head Cristy Maltese.
"Trailblazers: The Making of Home on the Range" (16:40, SD) is a surprisingly lengthy making-of featurette providing the project's history, concept art, and glimpses of the voice cast and musicians at work.
"A Dairy Tale: The Three Little Pigs" (3:29, SD) is an animated short with the film's voice cast (featuring Judi Dench as narrator).
"YodelMentary" (2:43, SD) doesn't last long, but scratches the surface of the subject of yodelling.
Last up is the montage "Joke Corral: Herd of Jokes" (4:34, SD).
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