There is much to applaud in Home on the Range, in many ways classic Disney animation. There are also moments of Looney Tunes action in the form of Lucky Jack, the frenetic jack rabbit who seems to be mimicking Roger Rabbit’s ‘on-screen’ persona. The tones throughout are earthy, mostly made up of hues of purple, auburn and brown tones with the backgrounds moving effectively with the foreground action. But the film didn’t do so well at the box office and was critically received with caution.
The story is predictable and simple enough as it follows the adventures of three cows: Maggie, Mrs Caloway and Grace, along with the help of Buck, a crazy horse they meet who try and save the idyllic farm where they live, Little Patch of Heaven from the crooked Alameda Slim. Filmed as a light comedy that could have been made as a tongue-in-cheek sixties John Wayne western with animals substituted for the human characters and filled with (human) personalities that seem to have stepped straight out of a John Ford western. It does benefit from its simple cell animation and does full justice and to its background vistas. The scene in which we are first introduced to Buck, the lively horse with hero aspirations, dreams he is in a showdown with some roughneck outlaws the screen turns to Cinemascope in a clear parody of the showdown in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West; indeed all the showdown scenes seem to play on the spaghetti western sub-genre. Gooding’s voice over as Buck is well suited and adds much energy to the plot, despite the clear, almost too obvious copying of Eddie Murphy’s characterisation as Donkey in the Shrek films.
The other voices do equally well, with Roseanne Barr voicing the brassy cow, Maggie and Judy Dench as the stuck-up Mrs Caloway (who seems to be mimicking a much older Disney variation of Clarabelle Cow). Steve Buscemi also makes a cameo appearance as a carpetbagger called Wesley (looking somewhat like Buscemi himself), while the character of Pearl, the old lady looks straight out of much older Disney movies, as do the usual Disney villain sidekicks, the Willie Brothers.
Unlike many recent Disney movies it does have some great tunes, some real show stoppers such as ‘Little Patch of Heaven’ sung by k. d. lang who seems to be singing a happy tune from such classic musicals as Calamity Jane, ‘Home on the Range’ and ‘Yodle-Adle-Eedle-Idle-Oo’ sung by Randy Quaid (voicing Alameda Slim).
This was widely reported to be the Walt Disney studios final traditional cell animated feature that had stretched back 67 years since Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), ending that studios career with more a whimper than a bang as the studio had been facing some stiff competition from the new kids on the block: Dreamworks and Pixar. But this was only a hiatus of five years, before they returned to cell animation with The Princess and the Frog in 2009. In 2005 the Walt Disney Animation Company joined forces with its chief competitor, Pixar that led to a fractious partnership with much in fighting between the two studios and within Disney.
It is in many ways the type of Disney movie that only Disney can pull off with some élan. Like many recent animated movies it is self aware, wearing this mocking as a badge of honour, as with many of the Dreamworks/Pixar films it attempts to compete with. In this respect it improves with repeat viewings. However, unlike such films as the aforementioned Shrek films, as enjoyable as Home on the Range might be, this is not a laugh a minute family film. Its funniest moments come during the musical sequences with much energy thrown into the farcical opening sequence with the trials of survival for the jack rabbit. It maybe a final swan song for the studio in terms of traditional cell animation, but this is a quiet classic that would be enjoyable for anyone searching for something to watch with the family viewing at Christmas.