April 1
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Disney Animation Finds a 'Home on the Range'

Disney Animation Finds a ‘Home on the Range’
by Jeremy Mathews
Three cows, voiced by Judi Dench, Roseanne Barr and Jennifer Tilly, set out to save their farm until a wagon moving backward down a hill kills them.

“Home on the Range”
Walt Disney Pictures
Written and directed by Will Finn and John Sanford
Produced by Alice Dewey Goldstone
Featuring the voices of Roseanne Barr, Judi Dench, Jennifer Tilly, Randy Quaid, Cuba Gooding Jr., G.W. Bailey, Steve Buscemi, Sam J. Levine, Joe Flaherty, Richard Riehle, Carole Cook, Estelle Harris, Charlie Dell, Charles Haid and Marshall Efron
Rated PG

(out of four)

Two-dimensional animation still has a place in family entertainment, and if all cartoons were as smart and amusing as “Home on the Range,” no one would be considering shutting down Disney’s animation department. The film’s look lies in the realm of traditional hand drawings and doesn’t augment the work with many obvious 3-D computer effects, denying current trends.

The technique fits the film’s Old Western storyline and its goal—to amuse all age groups. Detailed characters and a deluge of jokes replace efforts to show off new technology.

The story comes straight from the Old West formula department as a sinister, mustached villain steals cattle and plans to cheat every hard-working settler out of his or her range. The difference is that the heroes are three awkward cows and the villain kidnaps cattle with the secret weapon of yodeling.

Randy Quaid voices the ironically named Slim, who hypnotizes cattle in a psychedelic musical number that combines yodeling with spirals and groovy color effects. This is the kind of absurd humor that many 2-D Disney animated films have forgotten in favor of literary and historical epics. Writer-directors Will Finn and John Sanford never stop trying to make us laugh. At one point, a cow assures everyone that her utters are “real.”

The wise-cracking “show cow” Maggie, voiced by Roseanne Barr, arrives at the utopian farm Patch of Heaven. Maggie’s owner already lost his farm to Slim and was forced to leave his beloved cow behind at a new locale. It’s a romantic farm where all the animals are friends and the owner won’t sell any of them to pay off her debts and save the farm.

Maggie’s fun-loving attitude doesn’t mix well with Mrs. Caloway (Judi Dench), the cow who watches over all of the farm’s goings-on and appreciates order and discipline over Maggie’s goal to teach the pigs how to make a mess. Her leadership is ruffled when Maggie interrupts the cow pair of her and Grace (Jennifer Tilly), a New-Age bovine who tries to resolve conflicts by making people discuss their feelings. She’s also tone-deaf and gives her traveling companions a headache as she sings incessantly to improve morale.

Against Mrs. Caloway’s better judgement, the cows set out to capture Slim and use the bounty to pay off the farm’s debt. Unfortunately, they have competition.
Cuba Gooding Jr. voices Buck, a karate-emulating horse who dreams of abandoning the boring sheriff’s office and running off with the bounty hunter Rico (announced with a thrilled chorus), who is also off to capture Slim and doesn’t consider the cows to be much of a threat. Animator Michael Surrey’s poses for Buck’s karate, which generally leads to self-injury and creates some of the zaniest animation in recent years.

Buck is just one of the many characters who can’t be identified as comic relief because the comedy never stops. The Willie brothers (Sam J. Levine), Slim’s trio of hick henchmen, provide a healthy supply of idiotic humor, the best gag revealing why Slim hasn’t bought up Patch of Heaven yet.

There’s also Lucky Jack (Charles Haid), a rabbit with a wooden foot who brings his ability to incur terrible injuries to the cows’ team and a set of horned and horny bulls who do nothing but hit on the cows.

Plus, the character voiced by Steve Buscemi is, more than coincidentally, a grotesque caricature of the great actor.

Details like the Buscemi reference won’t likely appeal to kids, and are simply there for the enjoyment of older audience members. Finn and Sanford realize that animation can be fun, wacky, silly and make everyone laugh.

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