Mischief-maker Bill Maher, expounding on the new-fangled phenomenon of gastric bypass surgery in his book When You Ride Alone You Ride With Bin Laden wisecracked, “Roseanne tried the procedure without success, but that’s because cows have five stomachs.” The joke evidently wasn’t lost on the folks over at Walt Disney Pictures. Their newest full-length animated feature offers up the self-deprecating comedienne in the leading cattle role of Maggie, introduced as “the winner of the Happy Heifer Award” and renowned for, as a fellow bovine puts it, “her appalling bodily eruptions.” Roseanne’s mere casting represents a glint of adventurousness in this further slide down Disney’s declining slope, but even her shrill delivery is neutralized amid the bad dialogue, nondescript character design, cheap contemporization, and magic-less uplift. The outline is as simple as a Three Stooges featurette: a little patch of heaven way out west; happy old widow and her extended family of dairy animals; evil land-grabbin’ bandit intent on liquidating the range; three courageous cow gals setting out to save the day and, of course, the farm. Home on the Range gesticulates with the sluggish and unceremonious vibe of direct-to-video Disney or Saturday morning cartoons, which is to say the finale music kicks in exactly when the movie has worn out its 76-minute welcome. Alan Menken’s score, while obviously low on the totem pole of his career, actually emits some propellant zest, and Randy Quaid’s rendition of the song “Yodel-Adle-Eedle-Idle-Oo,” during a sequence in which the villain hypnotizes the cattle via psychedelic yodeling, is a lively throwback to Dumbo‘s “Pink Elephants on Parade.” Walt himself, however, would revolt if ever subjected to the punishing vocal buffoonery of Cuba Gooding Jr., the actor who will take absolutely any job, as Buck the valiant horse. Whereas you can almost envision Roseanne and cow sisters Judi Dench and Jennifer Tilly taking a drag of a cigarette and gabbing about Michael Eisner in between line readings, Gooding projects such a clench-fisted devotion to make every syllable cute and funny that even kindergarteners won’t likely be conned by it. Costing an estimated $110 million, Home on the Range is reportedly the swan song of its studio’s in-house 2D division, which perhaps isn’t as sad as it sounds—credit to their history, but even the best in the business got to know when to fold ‘em. There is a noticeable stench in the air when the movie makes a reference to Billy Bob Thornton’s performance in Sling Blade. It’s stale ink.
The landscapes used throughout Home on the Range are some of the most beautiful backdrops to appear in any Disney animated film in the studio's history. Though edge enhancement is visible at times, edge tizzing is never a problem and colors are evoked with great clarity across the entire spectrum. It's a pity, then, that the characters have to go and ruin the film by speaking, but I'd be lying if I said that the dynamic range on the Dolby Digital surround track was bad. Dialogue is clean, the songs are powerful, and the effects are truly multidimensional.
You won't see it advertised on the back cover, but this Home on the Range DVD comes with a commentary track by directors Will Finn and John Sanford and producer Alice Dewey. The trio recounts the typical trials and tribulations faced by most film productions. Nothing special, at least in comparison to the "Trailblazers" making-of doc and the lovely "Art Review" featurette, which delve into the production and look of the film more succinctly and intimately. Also included here are four deleted scenes very much in their embryonic states, an atrocious "Anytime You Need A Friend" music video by The Beau Sisters, and a semi-cute short titled "A Dairy Tale: The Three Little Pigs." Most fun is a section of games and activities divided into two parts: the three-tiered Joke Corral that allows you to hear Laugh In-style jokes from the film's characters (you can also make your own jokes and press a laugh button for a response from the farm animals) and a section devoted to yodeling, from a sing-a-long to a quickie "yodelmentary" that reveals that yodeling goes back to ancient Africa. Rounding out the disc are sneak peeks at the upcoming special editions of Aladdin and Mulan, Pooh's Heffalump Movie, and the first two volumes of The Magical World of Winnie the Pooh.
Now it's time to say goodbye.Disney closes the doors to its animation studio with the beautifully drawn but lousy Home on the Range.