Review: “Home on the Range” Blu-ray – For a film that nearly killed hand-drawn animation, it isn’t all bad on home release

in Disney, Merchandise, Movies

Since its theatrical release in 2004, “Home on the Range” has notoriously been thought of as the film that marked the end of Disney’s golden age of hand-drawn animation. Immediately following this box office bomb, never bringing in more money in theaters than was spent to produce it, Disney decided it was time to end its seemingly timeless tradition of 2D animation, replacing it with a line of CG films. Unfortunately for Walt Disney Animation Studios (then known as Walt Disney Feature Animation), the even more maligned “Chicken Little” followed wasn’t the ideal way to convince fans they’d made the right move.

Since then, Disney has clearly corrected their animation errors, both reviving 2D animation five years later in 2009’s widely-beloved “The Princess and the Frog” and simultaneously achieving great success with 3D computer-generated animation, including mega-hit “Tangled” (2010) and the highly anticipated upcoming film “Wreck-It Ralph.” Now that Disney is back on track in the animation department, where does this leave “Home on the Range,” now that fans are no longer bitter about the temporary derailment?

Eight years after “Home on the Range” hit theaters, it reaches home audiences with a Blu-ray release, affording me a first chance at actually sitting down to watch it. Going in with extremely low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised to not hate everything about this film. In fact, bits and pieces were quite enjoyable, particularly Alan Menken’s music – but isn’t it always?

“Home on the Range” follows three dairy cows in a rustic journey to save their farm from foreclosure, prompted by one man’s desire to dominate all the land in the area. It’s a rather cliche story, but while its characters are not necessarily all likable, they are each memorable, and often amusing, in their own ways. I can’t say the film deserves the Disney name alongside classics like “Aladdin” and “Sleeping Beauty,” but on its own merit it also doesn’t quite deserve the unequivocal roasting it so often receives.

Speaking of roasts, lead voice star of “Home on the Range” Roseanne Barr recently received one of her own, courtesy of Comedy Central. With her sudden resurgence in the pop culture spotlight, now is a perfect time to revisit her crass sense of humor that delighted audiences of her long-running TV sitcom but overwhelmingly turned off Disney fans, not prepared for modern-day punchlines and barrage of burp jokes dished out during “Home on the Range.” Those distinctly un-Disney moments aside, with an open mind, even the most die-hard Disney fan should be able to find some delight out of the film that nearly killed Disney animation forever.

Aside from its catchy music, the film’s most entertaining (though fleeting) moments include the antics of its yodeling (yes, yodeling) villain called Alameda Slim, particularly his introductory song, offering a colorful and zany departure from the rest of the rather drab animation style found throughout. The movie definitely picks up into an enjoyable pace as it mooooves along (ahem), but some viewers may not make it past the first 8 minutes, which include an udder-ly awful joke about the lead cow’s body parts being “real” and more belching than should ever be allowed in one Disney-animated sequence.

Judy Dench voices another lead cow character, as does Jennifer Tilly, each providing stark contrasts to Barr’s intensity. The trio become more tolerable as the film stampedes along, but it’s Cuba Gooding Jr’s performance as a wannabe hero horse that is most obnoxious of all.

Bonus features on this new Blu-ray release are all presented in standard definition, likely recycled from previous DVD releases. But since “Home on the Range” isn’t likely part of most Disney fans’ movie libraries, it’s likely they’ve rarely been seen before. And in some ways, these extras are more entertaining than the film itself.

Though deleted scenes included on home releases are often clear as to why they were removed, the cut intro sequence for “Home on the Range” featuring three mariachi butterflies singing an incredibly catchy tune is surprisingly original and really should not have been cut at all. The sequence combines gun-slingin’ tobacco-spittin’ live action western clips with amusing animation. Had the rest of the movie followed a similar tongue-in-cheek tone, it may have been far more successful.

Also on the release, a “Yodelmentary” comedically illustrates the history of yodeling and a “Joke Corral” offers a non-stop series of one-liners dished out by the film’s cast of characters, “Laugh-In”-style. “Trailblazers” makes viewers appreciate the amount of work that went into making the film, though listening to the co-directors talk about the evolution of its story makes it instantly clear why it ended up so simple, as if they were just making it up as they went along.

All in all, “Home on the Range” isn’t quite as awful as its reputation might lead one to believe – but it’s not good either. It’s a mediocre film that is at its best when reminding viewers of classic “Looney Tunes” shorts and at its worst when reduced to Roseanne’s brand of comedy.

“Home on the Range” is now available on Blu-ray via Amazon and other retailers.

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