Home on the Range
After a cattle thief devastates her owner’s farm, a cow named Maggie is adopted into the community at “Patch of Heaven”, a small farm run by an elderly woman. Unfortunately, Maggie’s new owner owes money on the farm, and if she doesn’t pay immediately she’ll lose the place and all her animals. Maggie decides that the best thing to do is go down into town and win prize money at a fair, so she and the two other cows on the farm take off. Once there, they find out that the fair will be too late to pay off the farm, but there’s a bounty on the cattle hustler Alameda Slim, the same man who ruined Maggie’s old life. She convinces Mrs. Calloway and Grace, the two other cows, that if they work together and catch the wanted man, they can pay off the debt on the farm – and she’ll have revenge. Their rival for the bounty prize is a horse named Buck, who daydreams about catching criminals with the legendary bounty hunter, Rico. It’s a race to catch Alameda Slim and collect the bounty before the bank sells off Patch of Heaven to Mr. Y O’delay, a land speculator buying up all the property in the area.
Ugh, this movie was bad. I don’t even know where to start.
Disney does animal stories. That’s fine. Disney hadn’t yet done a Western, and that’s such a staple of American folklore that they were duty-bound to make one eventually. So this wasn’t a surprising film in terms of subject and story. But the first problem with the story is this: no one really cares all that much about cows. Sorry. They’re terrible protagonists. When the one food recognized around the world as American is a hamburger, that should be a clue! The vast majority of the movie-going public isn’t going to empathize with dinner. The cows aren’t cute or attractive, either; they’re bulky with sagging stomachs and hip bones so sharp they threaten to tear through their hides. The faces are ugly – let’s face it, cows are not known for intelligent features or cuddliness. For a company so dedicated to the marketability of its movie characters, it’s baffling to me that they chose the humble bovine for the leads. The secondary problem is that these are not young cows; with the possible exception of Grace, all three cows sound like middle-aged women squabbling over the price of vegetables at the grocery store. If your target audience is adults, fine and dandy- but realistically, how many kids want to watch a movie about a trio of spinster maiden aunt-types?
Cows. Who cares?
Obviously, I didn’t like the main characters. Judi Dench voices a rather prim and proper Mrs. Calloway, and the aristocratic English accent sounds so bizarre and out of place in the Western frontier. How did an English cow get out there?? Roseanne Barr grates as Maggie, the newcomer and blue ribbon prize winner who is as loud and obnoxious as she could possibly be. She’s also terribly unfunny - was this particular joke worth bumping the film up to a PG rating?
Maggie (talking about her udders): Yeah, they’re real. Quit starin’.
No, it’s not. Jennifer Tilly’s Grace is a spaced-out New Age cow, rounding out the trio of mismatched personalities. I have to admit that it is nice to see female leads that aren’t princesses, but that doesn’t make the cows any more appealing. Rounding out the good guys is a wanna-be hero horse voiced by Cuba Gooding Jr. named Buck. He’s a kung-fu fightin’ tough love motherf***er…in his imagination, anyway. He seemed like a weak attempt to copy the donkey character from the Shrek franchise.
In a way, that’s the film’s problem. It feels like a Dreamworks movie, not a Disney movie. It’s full of the contemporary pop culture references and half-assed jokes that fill their films. But the bigger issue, I think, is that the essential animal-like qualities are lacking. Judi Dench doesn’t sound like a cow and Cuba Gooding Jr. doesn’t sound like a horse. By contrast, even John Travolta in Bolt brought a hyper, puppy-like earnestness to the role that was inarguably dog-like. But while some of the minor characters manage to embody the signature characteristics of their species – there’s a delightfully grumpy goat and a pair of bulls in the cow rustlin’ scenes that seemed much more in tune with their animal nature – the main characters are written too much like people.
But enough with the cows. I’m done with them. I’ll even throw some compliments at the movie to make up for so much negativity.
The backgrounds are GORGEOUS. They’re highly stylized Western landscapes full of sharp angles and flat, bright color. They really set the mood, letting the viewer know that this is going to be a different sort of Disney film. Just look at them!
I also found the villain, Alameda Slim, so kooky and bizarre that I enjoyed him immensely. A cattle hustler who steals the animals by yodeling so perfectly that it hypnotizes them? That’s so zany and strange that it just works. He even sings a song – “Yodel-Adle-Eedle-Idle-Oo” – and as he yodels through the verses the animation kicks up into a crazy “Pink Elephants on Parade” sequence. It was hands down the best sequence in the film.
But there’s so much working against this movie. The generic country music is quite forgettable, and the story is an
You know what makes it sadder? When story development first began, Disney was planning to do a Pied Piper movie. Somehow, that classic story devolved into this mess. It’s so very disappointing. And when I think that this movie will be followed by the abomination that is Chicken Little, I just want to cry for how far the Disney Studios had fallen.
After this movie completed production, Disney shut down its traditional animation studio. I can’t say I’m surprised – but why couldn’t Disney figure out that the STORY was the problem, not the animation???