The toppling trend bucks slightly this week with the release of the unexpectedly pleasant Home on the Range, a smart and lively adventure set on the fringes of America's frontier that temporarily places Disney's 2-D animation station back in the saddle.
Home succeeds simply by returning to basics. Imagine that. It certainly doesn't raise the bar on hand-drawn animation - figures look as boxy and strangely angular as they did in the aforementioned Atlantis. Instead, vast improvements are implemented in the crucial story and character development departments. Home actually dreams up a clever plot we can get behind, then bothers to create characters we still remember two days after leaving the theater.
It helps that said characters are three personable cows, voiced perfectly by Roseanne (the showoff), Dame Judi Dench (the rule-abider) and Jennifer Tilly (the pacifist). Their mission is simple: Somehow they must earn enough money to prevent foreclosure on Patch of Heaven, their owner's ranch. Their path of glory is blocked by a conceited stallion (Cuba Gooding Jr.), a yodeling crook who looks a lot like Bruce McGill, and a bounty hunter with a voice deeper than Darth Vader's.
Home reminds us that cartoons can be fun as well as funny. Puns blow like tumbleweeds through John Sanford and Will Finn's clever script, and the stronger jokes riff on established farm concepts. "Remember when Grace helped you figure out why you crossed the road?" one character asks a chicken. Hardy har-har.
Though billed as a musical comedy, Alan Menken's bouncy saloon tunes don't disrupt the action (take note, Phil Collins), and the whole thing whips to a frenzied conclusion that the kids will want to watch again and again. Be prepared to buy the video a few months from now. And the soundtrack.
DVD extras include deleted scenes, a short film, music video, and the usual kiddie-friendly features. Get an exclusive clip from the film here!
Shut yer piehole, pig.
Run time: 76 mins
In Theaters: Friday 2nd April 2004
Box Office USA: $49.9M
Box Office Worldwide: $104M
Distributed by: Walt Disney Pictures
Production compaines: Walt Disney Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 54%
Fresh: 67 Rotten: 58
IMDB: 5.4 / 10
Producer: Alice Dewey
Starring: Randy Quaid as Alameda Slim, Steve Buscemi as Wesley, Judi Dench as Mrs. Caloway, Cuba Gooding Jr. as Buck, G. W. Bailey as Rusty, the Dog, Bobby Block as Piggy, Carole Cook as Pearl Gesner, Charlie Dell as Ollie, the Pig, Charles Dennis as Rico, Marshall Efron as Larry, the Duck, Charles Haid as Lucky Jack, Jennifer Tilly as Grace, Joe Flaherty as Jeb, the Goat, Roseanne Barr as Maggie