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Sorry. You’re right. I’m sorry but…oh God that poster. That poster pretty much encapsulates the whole problem with this movie. Just this weird, desperate attempt to be hip and funny that fails so badly you’re not even sure if that’s what they were going for. It’s one thing to come last in a race. It’s another to come last because you were pushing a bobsled on the track. One just means you were bad. The other is being so inept it’s hard for an outside observer to be sure that you were even trying to win. Like all the real turkeys in the Disney canon, details on Home on the Range’s origins are hard to come by. Wikipedia, TV Tropes and IMDb are pretty light on facts and presumably only God and Michael Eisner know where the bodies are buried. I do know that Home on the Range started pre-production all the way back in 1995, that it was once going to be called Sweating Bullets and that the premise was at one point that a young calf named Bullets taking on a gang of ghost cattle rustlers called The Willies. Yeah, so this thing was always going to suck, basically. There is no universe where this movie turned out well.
How bad is it?
Come. Let us gaze upon the carnage…
Alright, so the movie begins with the title song, Home on the Range, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater. It’s certainly not bad, in fact it’s a damn good entry in the “tough yet oddly chipper men singing about the frontier” genre of songs but…this is Alan Menken we’re talking about. While none of his songs here are bad, it’s kind of hard not to feel like he didn’t exactly push himself to his full potential. Once the song’s over we get some narration from our main character, Maggie, voiced by Roseanne Barr. Hang on a minute, let me check my Roseanne Barr fact sheet.
Okay, before we go any further I want to talk about the animation. Now, if you’ve seen this movie you may see my score on the animation and, even if you hate the movie, you will think “Ah c’mon Mouse. It’s not that bad.”
So let me clear something up. When I score a movie on “animation”, I’m not simply referring to the technical act of giving still images the illusion of motion and how well or badly that is done. It’s also my score for the character design, backgrounds and basically the entire visual presentation of the movie, because all that ties into how effective the animation is. For example, say you animate a boy running across a field. But the motion is more like someone skating across a frozen pond. That’s bad animation, because you have failed to realistically recreate the human motion that you were trying to portray. But say you switch out the background of the field and slot in a frozen lake. Now, it’s good animation, because the motion and the environment are suited to each other. For the movement to simply be fluid is not enough, the character has to interact believably with the background, and also has to be competently and appealingly designed or else the animation will never look good no matter how fluidly and seamlessly it moves. Which brings me to Home on the Range’s character designs. Good. Fucking. God.
Alright, so we are introduced to absolutely SCADS of characters at the farm and most of them are totally forgettable so I’ll just focus on the two most important ones, Mrs Calloway voiced by Judi Dench and Grace voiced by Jennifer Tilly. Hmm… let me check my Jennifer Tilly factsheet.
The animals are terrified of being sold but Maggie has the idea of entering the local county fair to win enough prize money to save the farm. Calloway is dead set against this because harrumph, harrumph, most unorthodox! And Maggie leaves with Grace. Mrs Calloway is determined to stay on the farm with Pearl but four of the chicks guilt her into going by staring at her silently. I think it’s supposed to be that they’re so cute that Calloway can’t resist but crappy character design strikes again and instead of seeming cute they look like the dead-eyed demonic spawn of the Red Rooster himself.
So, understandably, Calloway gets the heck out of there and chases after Grace and Maggie. Maggie asks her what changed her mind and Mrs Calloway says she doesn’t want to talk about it, and Grace tells Maggie “It’s a chick thing”.
Someone got paid to write that.
The three cows head into town and meet up with the Sheriff’s horse, Buck, voiced by Cuba Gooding Junior. Oh, poor, poor Cuba Gooding Junior. Little did you know, when you won that Oscar in 1996 that it carried a terrible, terrible curse.
Yes, this movie is just one more step on Gooding’s tragic path from Academy Award winning actor to Disney crappy movie man bitch. Anyway, Buck is obsessed with becoming a crime fighting hero and demonstrates this by randomly doing martial arts moves and screaming “HA! KIYAAAAH!”. This is the second Disney movie in row that I’ve had to review that had a character do that (Koda in Brother Bear did it too) and now I finally understand what murderers call “the red mist”. Anyway, Maggie tries to negotiate with Buck for more time to pay but they’re interrupted by the arrival of Rico, who is hands down my favorite character in all of this, his arrival heralded by the thunder of the heavens themselves. Rico is frickin’ awesome, like a cross between Clint Eastwood and Wolverine so it’s little wonder that he’s in like five minutes of the movie, max.
So Rico rolls up to the Sheriff’s office lookin’ for his next bounty. The Sheriff tells him that Alameda Slim has a bounty of $750 which just so happens to be the exact amount the bank is looking for Pearl’s farm. So Maggie decides that the three cows will bring in Slim themselves, while Rico mounts Buck…that came out wrong. While Rico jumps on Buck’s back and rides him hard (much better) off into the distance. Okay, I’ll be honest, there is one joke here that genuinely made me laugh out loud. The Sheriff finds the three cattle wandering in the street and ties them to the nearest wagon. A Chinese man comes out of a saloon and the Sheriff barks “Hey pardner! Watch your livestock” and the Chinese man happily exclaims in Mandarin…
I don’t even know why it’s so funny. Partially it’s his delighted enthusiasm, and also I think Gary Larson was on to something when he said that cows are just inherently funny. Usually.
Anyway, they arrive at a cattle drive which takes a turn for the creepy because it’s an all male herd and these bulls clearly want to make a double meat patty if you follow me. In fact, I don’t know which is more worrying, the fact that this is a kinda rapey Disney movie or that it’s not even the MOST rapey Disney movie.
But before things get any worse Alameda Slim and his gang attack the cattle drive. So here’s our villain. I wonder who plays him? Who would possibly agree to appear in this piece of dreck? Only a complete madman, an unhinged psychotic basket case, a total and utter mental defective would say yes to…oh hi, Randy Quaid. This then, is Alameda Slim.
Anyway, Alameda Slim starts in on his villain song, saying that he’s the best rustler in the west. This sequence also reuses some animation from earlier in the movie from a flashback to Maggie’s farm getting rustled. Sigh. It’s dispiriting that Disney is back recycling animation after staying on the wagon for so long, but to reuse animation from the same damn movie? Are you kidding me?
Ah, that takes me back. Okay, where was I? Right, so Slim reveals just how he manages to rustle so many cattle. He yodels at them. I repeat. He yodels at the cattle. And then…
Oh no. Oh no. Ohhhhhhhh God…
Um, sorry where was I? Wait, what was I even doing? I remember nothing nothing nothing. What was I watching?
Bust a Moo? BUST A MOO!? WHAT THE FUNKING FICK DOES THAT MEAN?!
Oh well, I seem to be mostly through it anyway. Jeez, I haven’t blacked out like that in a while. Maybe I should see Doctor Fiedelman.
Alright well the cows escape from Alameda Slim…somehow…after he had captured them…somehow, and run across Buck who’s been abandoned by Rico for being a dumbass. Buck is desperate to get back in Rico’s good books, and when he hears what the cows are planning he decides to bring in Alameda Slim himself. The cows chase him across the desert but then get caught in a flash flood. Mrs Calloway saves Maggie from drowning but tells her that this stupid idea of hers is stupid and that basically she’s the worst thing to happen to Patch O’Heaven since that time all the chickens caught fire. The cows decide to go their separate ways and this leads us into the next song, a sad country ballad called Will the Sun Ever Shine Again sung by Bonnie Rait. Ain’t that lovely? But first, give it up y’all for Mister Conway Twitty!
Anyway, the next morning Maggie is about to head off when the three cows meet Lucky Jack, a one-legged desert rabbit. I actually haven’t even mentioned most of the extraneous comedy relief characters like the farm animals, Alameda’s gang or Buck’s little dog friend because I want to finish this review sometime before Jewish new year. Lucky Jack offers them breakfast but Mrs Calloway says that they have to get going back to their farm before it’s gone forever. Luck Jack sympathises, saying that he recently lost his home too, to a land-grabbing rustler named Alameda Slim oh what are the odds? Maggie makes a deal with Mrs Calloway, if she and Grace help her catch Slim, they’ll get the money and Maggie will leave the farm and never trouble them again. Mrs Calloway says “fuck yeah!” but in a prim and proper British way and three cows and Lucky Jack head off to the mine where Slim is hiding out. Meanwhile Slim is awaiting the arrival of his buyer, who he greets as “Mr Weasly” only to be angrily told “It’s “Wesley“!”
Wesley is voiced by Steve Buscemi and is yet another totally superfluous comedy relief character because if this movie can’t have quality it can still have quantity by God. Outside, the cattle find Buck trying to get past Slim’s pet buffalo Junior.
Junior lets the cows once they tell him they were separated from the herd but Buck has to find another way in. He sees Rico and his new horse nearby. He goes and talks to the other horse and OH MY GOD THAT HORSE IS VOICED BY PATRICK WARBURTON! Oh thank God, sweet mercy at last. Okay, things are looking up. C’mon Patrick, you can save this movie. You can save us all! So Buck tells the Warburton Horse that as soon as he catches Slim he’ll be riding like the wind back into town and using his horse whip every step of the way. This freaks the Warbuton Horse out who makes a break for the border, never to be seen in the movie again.
I was a fool. I was a fool to hope.
The three cows manages to knock Slim unconscious and almost escape with him in a mining cart but they run into Wesley’s personal train as it’s leaving the mine and get captured by Slim. Slim then introduces his partner, the most treacherous lawman in the West; Rico!
Buck is devastated to learn that his hero is actually a bad guy and frees the cows. Rico is about to shoot Buck but Mrs Calloway leaps through the air as Rico looks up and whispers to himself “Mother of mercy. Is this the end of Rico?”
It is. And we are all the poorer for it. Sigh, let’s just get to the end of this thing. The cows have to get back to Patch O’Heaven because Alameda Slim has gone to buy it at the auction. Mrs Calloway suggests they drive the train because the track goes right past the farm but Maggie asks how they’re supposed to work a train. Mrs Calloway gives an inspirational speech about how they can do anything because blah blah blah believe in yourself.
They get the train working and make it back to the farm. Maggie knocks out Slim, the Sheriff gives Pearl the money, Pearl saves the farm, the two cows who thought that no means yes show up along with Junior, everyone dances, cows go moo, ducks go quack, Mouse goes “Ugh”. THE END.