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Home on the Range Blu-ray & DVD Review

Home on the Range (2004) movie poster Home on the Range

Theatrical Release: April 2, 2004 / Running Time: 76 Minutes / Rating: PG

Directors: Will Finn, John Sanford / Writers: Will Finn, John Sanford (screenplay & story); Michael LaBash, Sam J. Levine, Mark Kennedy, Robert Lence (story); Shirley Pierce (additional dialogue)

Voice Cast: Roseanne Barr (Maggie), Judi Dench (Mrs. Caloway), Jennifer Tilly (Grace), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Buck), Randy Quaid (Alameda Slim), Charles Dennis (Rico), Charles Haid (Lucky Jack), Carole Cook (Pearl Gesner), Joe Flaherty (Jeb the Goat), Steve Buscemi (Wesley), Richard Riehle (Sheriff Sam Brown), Lance LeGault (Junior the Buffalo), G.W. Bailey (Rusty the Dog), Patrick Warburton (Patrick), Estelle Harris (Audrey the Chicken), Sam J. Levine (Willie Brothers), Mark Walton (Barry and Bob the Longhorns), Dennis Weaver (Abner), Charlie Dell (Ollie the Pig), Governor Ann Richards (Annie)

Songs: "(You Ain't) Home on the Range", "Home on the Range (Echo Mine Reprise)", "Little Patch of Heaven", "Yodle-Adle-Eedle-Idle-Oo", "Will the Sun Ever Shine Again?", "Little Patch of Heaven (Finale)", "Wherever the Trail May Lead", "Anytime You Need a Friend"

Buy Home on the Range from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD DVD Instant Video

In 2004, the long and wondrous tradition of hand-drawn Disney animation seemed to come to an end with the release of Home on the Range. It seemed rash for a studio built on animated features to close shop just two years after the success of Lilo & Stitch. But there was really no looking back. Disney had laid off artists and sold off their tables. By the company's reasoning, computer animation was the future and the future was now
as the massive returns on Shrek, Ice Age, and partner Pixar Animation Studios' works had demonstrated.

Fans of the medium that stretched nearly seventy years to the triumphant Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs rallied around Home on the Range, believing that a glowing reception was the only way for Disney, and by extension the world, to reconsider retiring traditional methods in favor of CGI. But, anticipated by an off-season early April release, Home did not connect with audiences, grossing a measly $50 million domestically on its substantial $110 M budget mere weeks before DreamWorks' Shrek 2 began its record-setting $440 M North American run.

Critics weren't all that crazy about Home on the Range either, giving it mixed and mild reviews. It would be Disney's first eligible in-house production not to earn a nomination for the young Best Animated Feature Oscar. Even frequently recognized composer Alan Menken added nothing to the film's handful of acknowledgements from the Young Artist Awards, Mexican MTV Movie Awards, and dubious of late Annie Awards.

Three cows (Grace, Maggie, Mrs. Caloway) set out to save their idyllic dairy farm in Disney's "Home on the Range."

I vividly recall describing Home as ending a grand tradition not with a bang but with a whimper. It was an easy observation to make and while I certainly didn't love the film, I did like it. Compelled to revisit it for the first time in eight years, I now feel I wasn't nearly as critical of the movie as I should have been.
There are two large reasons to explain my somewhat upbeat review. First, there was the drama of Disney giving up on their signature format, one that had evolved considerably over the years and become increasingly reliant on computers but remained unmistakable for the now prevalent three-dimensional all-CG imagery. On a more personal level, there was also the novelty of getting DVDs early and free to review on this website. Home came less than six months after discovering this perk and, though you always strive for honesty and accuracy, every critic gets harder to please over time.

I don't think Home on the Range is anywhere near a full-blown disaster and the film's current IMDb user rating of 5.3 still feels a little low. But when held up to the 50 other Disney animated features (all of which are easily more highly rated on IMDb), it definitely feels lacking and derivative.

The film follows prize-winning show cow Maggie (voiced by Roseanne, in casting that feels fifteen years too late) to Patch of Heaven, a small dairy farm in financial trouble. The farm's longtime owner Pearl (Carole Cook) needs to raise $750 very soon to avoid foreclosure and auction of the barnyard animals she refuses to sell (apparently because "they're family", even the newly-acquired ones). Maggie and the farm's two other cows, golden off-key Grace (Jennifer Tilly) and proper, pessimistic Mrs. Caloway (Judi Dench) leave their home in an effort to heroically capture outlaw cattle rustler Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid, back when he was employable), whose bounty is the very same $750.

It is all very formulaic and standard, with the story having only one way in which to play out to satisfaction. In the modern Disney fashion, Menken's songs are largely not performed by characters, but by pop artists: the likes of k.d. lang, Bonnie Raitt, and Tim McGraw. One exception is Alameda Slim's yodel, which disarms cows to enable his signature thievery.

We don't warm to the characters anywhere near as much to consider any of them favorite Disney personalities. The lead cows are a reflection of their voice actresses: Roseanne's sarcasm, Tilly's ditsy sweetness, Dench's old English fussiness. Slim doesn't get enough screentime to establish him as a memorable villain. Patch of Heaven's other residents barely feature at the beginning and end. Also in the mix are the Sheriff's proud stallion Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr.) who's itching to be heroic, the stoic bounty hunter Rico (Charles Dennis), peg-legged rabbit Lucky Jack (Charles Haid), and nasty little man Wesley (clearly modeled after his voice, Steve Buscemi).

Villain Alameda Slim uses his entrancing yodel to steal cattle, as this psychedelic musical number demonstrates. Buck daydreams in the scope aspect ratio of Sergio Leone, flexing his muscle like the hero he believes himself to be.

If you enter Home on the Range expecting it to be bad but wanting it to be good, you may very well be moderately satisfied. If you come in with no real expectations, as I did this time around, you may very well spot the film's transparent design and be bothered by its obnoxious execution of country songs, slapstick gags, and belches. It has a few inspired moments that aren't inspired enough to single out. Attached to warm childhood memories, they might be enough to secure Home a place in fans' hearts. But it seems as though kids didn't really like the film and the passage of eight years isn't helping any.

As we all know, Disney has twice recently re-embraced hand-drawn animation on the satisfying and traditional The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh, two films that nonetheless failed to meet box office expectations. The two-dimensional technique seems much less dead now than it did eight years ago. At the same time, the studio has taken great strides in its computer-animated works, sharply improving from their ignominious debut, 2005's crude and imitative Chicken Little. All of this drains significance from Home on the Range, transforming it from an underappreciated last hurrah to just a weak, forgettable effort at a time of transition.

That the movie must be one of the weak links in Disney's ridiculously strong-selling canon makes it surprising that Home on the Range is already coming to Blu-ray, ahead of most classics and even more popular mid-range efforts. But then look at how the movie is making its Blu-ray debut: arriving alongside fellow box office flop Treasure Planet with minimal promotion in July, a month that the studio regularly ignores when making its annual home video schedule. Fanfare or not, the release of any Disney animated film as a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack is enough to garner some interest from the public.

Home on the Range Blu-ray + DVD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled and Captioned
Release Date: July 3, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Still available on DVD ($15.99 SRP; September 14, 2004) and Amazon Instant Video Previously released on VHS (September 14, 2004)

VIDEO and AUDIO

For all its faults, Home on the Range looks nothing short of perfect on Blu-ray Disc. Animation lends itself to stunning picture quality, especially digital age efforts, which, hand-drawn or not, this was. The impeccable 1.78:1 transfer boasts sharp lines, bold colors, and seemingly all the detail that has ever existed. Home may not be the most artistic of films, but what magnificence it does offer is easy to admire here.

One thing worth noting is that CGI elements stand out more than I remember them doing so. It may be that the increased clarity calls more attention to them, or it might just be that such components were imperfectly integrated to begin with. Also worth mentioning but not having a significant effect on the viewing experience: the Blu-ray and new DVD's framing differs slightly from the original DVD's 1.66:1 "family-friendly widescreen" presentation, showing a little bit less height and a little bit more width, leaning ever so slightly in one direction depending on the shot.

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is also just as strong as you'd hope and like it to be. As a not quite musical, the mix doesn't exactly spring to life for songs, although they do feature nicely and prominently. Instead, the mix is just constantly lively and active with effects and crisp dialogue. It's not demo-worthy material, but it is nonetheless just as strong as it should be.

Alameda Slim's presidential aspirations are featured among the deleted scenes. The Beu Sisters sing together in their "Anytime You Need a Friend" music video. Very different looking character and scenery designs feature in the Art Review.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Home on the Range doesn't gain bonus features over its DVD and it loses a couple as well.

Most significant yet hidden in the Languages menu is an audio commentary by producer Alice Dewey Goldstone and writers/directors Will Finn and John Sanford. They have good information, regarding the source of the movie's clearly evitable PG rating, the title considerations, and assorted cinematic inspirations. It's not a bad listen,
although we're clearly getting the sanitized version of the long, troubled production.

On the video front, all extras remain in standard definition.

Four deleted scenes (14:57) are each presented in a mix of storyboards and test animation and preceded by directors' introductions. The cuts include some strange concepts: mariachi butterflies singing over old live-action western movie footage and Alameda Slim plotting to become President. There's also a coyote chase and an alternate, extended meeting between the cows and Lucky Jack.

The music video "Anytime You Need a Friend" (3:21) finds sibling girl group the Beu Sisters (more like the "Who?" Sisters) singing the obligatory end credits pop theme on a bridge, in a barn (hay fight!), and with an old-time camera in tow.

"Art Review" (10:15) is a creative variation on the typical gallery, as art director David Cutler and background department head Cristy Maltese talk over their Wyoming research photos and a variety of concept and character drawings and paintings.

A Roseanne thinner and blonder than you're used to is seen voicing protagonist Maggie in "Trailblazers: The Making of 'Home on the Range.' Mrs. Caloway's telling of The Three Little Pigs gets interrupted and revised in the short "A Dairy Tale." Asian monks' use of yodels is discussed in the short "YodelMentary."

"Trailblazers: The Making of Home on the Range" (16:40) is a substantial featurette that honors the film's western leanings in ranch location crew member interviews and comic bits. It cleanly charts the film's development from its original concept Sweating Bullets. We see a lot of concept art and clips from voice actor and musician recording sessions.

A Dairy Tale: The Three Little Pigs (3:00, though a delayed production studio credit extends this to 3:29) is a short cartoon employing the film's voice cast and the end credits' simple, flat patchwork designs. Judi Dench narrates as Mrs. Caloway, whose telling of the famed fairy tale keeps getting interrupted and reworked by her fellow cows and their friends.

"YodelMentary" (2:43) is a short irreverent piece on the history and physics of the yodel, featuring a narrator who tries out various accents and clips of ordinary people trying to yodel.

Simple versions of Buck, Jed, Mrs. Caloway, and other characters crack funnies in the "Joke Corral", the Blu-ray's only widescreen bonus feature. The new Home on the Range DVD gets a simpler main menu, void of EasyFind icons.

"Joke Corral: Herd of Jokes" (4:34) is montage of corny jokes performed by characters in the style of the bonus short. The interactive and random play options from the DVD have been dropped in favor of a single "play all" succession.

Also dropped from the original DVD are the DVD-ROM "Yodel Maker" activity and the set-top "Yodel Memory!" game.
Nothing major, but quite possibly more fun than what is retained here, all of which kindly makes it to both discs, despite the case's inconsistent lists.

Both Blu-ray and DVD open with promos for Disney Studio All Access, Cinderella: Diamond Edition, and The Odd Life of Timothy Green. To those, the menus' Sneak Peeks listing adds ads for Disney Movie Rewards, Tinker Bell's Secret of the Wings, Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure Special Edition, Pocahontas & Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 2 Movie Collection, The Tigger Movie (still using Third Eye Blind), The Aristocats, The Rescuers & The Rescuers Down Under: 2 Movie Collection, Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3, and Planes.

The simple static menu plays score over the cover art imagery.

The two plainly-labeled discs claim opposite sides of a standard Blu-ray case, the gray DVD topped by a Disney Movie Rewards booklet and the case topped by the embossed cardboard slipcover that Home never got on DVD (with a sticker advertising "music and songs from the composer of Aladdin").

Maggie, Mrs. Caloway, and Grace find a friend and an ally in peg-legged rabbit Lucky Jack.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

For eight years, I was under the impression that Home on the Range was an unspectacular but okay effort. Revisiting it now, it seems quite a bit less than that, one of the few Disney animated films that just doesn't work to any large degree. The studio's canon is still small enough for every entry to matter, but this one seems to matter less than almost all of the fifty others. It's disheartening to see such accomplished talent and an admirable tradition applied to such a forgettable comedy, but they can't all be masterpieces.

Disney's Blu-ray boasts a first-rate feature presentation. The combo pack could have been a better value with less effort if Disney had just recycled the movie's existing DVD. Instead, the one here updates trailers and drops a couple of minor extras. The movie is strictly for Disney animation completists, whom this release should satisfy. Everyone else would probably do better with a single viewing, or two spread-out ones to really notice its shortcomings.

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Reviewed July 3, 2012.



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