Disney’s 2004 animated feature Home on the Range set quite a precedent when it was released. With a budget of $110,000,000, it became the last film that Disney would produce that was hand-drawn (that is, until they decided to do Princess and the Frog). Because they were focusing on more CGI animation, they laid off nearly the entire animation department at the studio. It was also the first Disney animated release that didn’t come out in the summer or at holiday. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a little film. It only made $50 million, which is a ton better than last year’s Mars Needs Mom.
It used to be that having “Walt Disney presents” above the title of a film made it a cash cow (no pun intended) but audiences are getting more and more sophisticated and savvy. We look for films that have good stories, good animation, and good casting. “Walt Disney presents” used to be a beacon of quality, but those bulbs tend to burn out. Home on the Range is a perfect example of that.
It amazes me how projects get approved in Hollywood. Home on the Range went through several different versions. The one prior to the final product was about a baby bull named Bullet. How that became a story about three female cows trying to save their home by becoming bounty hunters is beyond me. The question is: how did someone think that Home on the Range was a good enough film to invest $110,000,000 on? You could ask the guy that green-lighted Disney’s Mars Needs Moms (considered the biggest flop in motion picture history), but that guy is no longer there, since he approved another flop- this year’s John Carter.
Home on the Range opens as Maggie (Rosanne Barr), a prized winning bovine, is brought to live on "Patch of Heaven," a ranch owned by a lady named Pearl. The animals on the ranch supervised by Mrs. Caloway (Judi Dench), a no-nonsense cow who doesn’t like change, and Grace (Jennifer Tilly), a scatter-brained dairy cow who’s tone deaf. When Maggie arrives, she becomes the center of attention, which angers Mrs. Caloway of course. But things get worse when the bank threatens to evict Pearl and sell Patch of Heaven. So Maggie, Mrs. Caloway and Grace go to town to persuade Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr), the sheriff’s stallion, to give Pearl more time to make the money.
While they're in town, they find out that Alameda Slim, the most notorious cattle rustler in the west has a bounty on his head. The reward is $750, the same amount as the mortgage! The ladies decide to go and capture Alameda Slim for the reward and save the ranch. Along the way, they join a chuck wagon, which takes them to a cattle drive. Then the herd gets stolen by Slim, who's able to control the cattle by his uncanny ability to yodel. The cows have to suffer through a few more adventures before they will ever get to go back home.
Home on the Range would be a great movie…if I was between 5 and 7 years old. It has humorous characters that are very colorful. For people above that age range however, the story is fairly boring and lacking in humor department. I still can’t believe this even got approved. Disney prides themselves on merchandising their films: lunch boxes, games, stuffed animals. I just don’t see very many kids wanting a stuffed cow doll or a stuffed peg-leg rabbit.
I like some of the casting here. Judi Dench is one of my favorite actresses, and her playing an uptight cow is fun. I seriously wonder how they got her to play a cow. Jennifer Tilly as the dim-witted Grace borders a little on type-casting, but it works. Rosanne Barr plays Rosanne as a cow. Her delivery is her usual sarcastic self. It’s funny, but not for 76 minutes. Randy Quaid seems to be having fun with Alameda Slim. It’s a colorful character, unfortunately he uses stunt vocalists for the yodeling. As Buck, Cuba Gooding Jr. rehashes his Jerry Maguire ‘Rod Tidwell’ character like he usually does, but this time as a horse.
Overall, Home on the Range feels rushed. After the initial set-up, the film tends to tread water until the final 10 minutes, where most of the action takes place. Basically first-time directors Will Finn and John Sanford really dropped the ball here. There are a total of twenty writers credited to this film, and not one of them could come up with something that would make the film funnier or more exciting. Sad thing is, I don’t think anyone could have made this movie funnier or more exciting. For crying out loud, it’s about cows!
Home on the Range is presented with a 1080p, MPEG-4 video codec, and an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. At one point in the film during Buck’s dream sequence, the aspect ratio changes to 2.35:1. For the most part, the colors in the film are good, but there are some problem areas. One particularly glaring problem occurred later in the film where Buck talks Rico’s horse into running away. The colors in that scene are so bright, that it was almost uncomfortable to watch. I seriously mean it. The canyon wall was a bright pink hue, and every other color looks horrible against it. The contrast is cranked up a bit. Another serious issue with the transfer is edging. It occurs throughout the film, to a point where it’s distracting (I actually used this title as reference to show off bad edging). Black levels are ok. Just a real disappointing transfer.
The DTS-HD 5.1 audio transfer is just a notch better than the video transfer. The films soundtrack is predominantly located in the front channels with an occasional burst into the rear speakers. This occurs mostly with Alan Menken’s score and occasionally during the saloon scene and the mine car chase. There is good depth from the LFE channel. The clarity from the front speaker is very good too with the dialogue coming through clearly from the front speaker. There are some mild directional effects throughout, but not anything spectacular. Again, really disappointing from the Mouse House.
The extras for Home on the Range are really geared to kids. There are two featurettes, one on the Making of the film, and one on the history of yodeling, that are more adult oriented. If you’re not seven years old, skip the rest.
After typing all this, I decided-don’t let the kids go anywhere near these extras. It will rot their minds.
Home on the Range is clearly a bottom tier Disney title. If anything, it should have been a direct to video title. The story is uninteresting and unfunny. The characters are kind of cute for being cows, but it’s hardly enough to keep a child interested for an extended period. This will probably be the only time you ever hear Rosanne and Dame Judi Dench in a scene together, so try to enjoy it while you can. Picture quality is substandard for a Disney release, audio quality is not much better. I would strongly urge you to ignore this one.