[Screen It]

(2004) (voices of Roseanne Barr, Judi Dench) (PG)

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Comedy: A trio of talking cows sets out to find and capture a cattle rustler so that they can collect the reward money and thus save their farm from foreclosure.
It's the Old West and prize-winning heifer Maggie (voice of ROSEANNE BARR) is the lone cow left on the Dixon farm after cattle rustler Alameda Slim (voice of RANDY QUAID) and his three dimwitted nephews, Phil, Bill & Gil Willie (voice of SAM LEVINE), have done their dirty work.

With the farm up on the auction block, Maggie is sent to live on the Patch of Heaven dairy farm run by Pearl (voice of CAROLE COOK) and Mrs. Caloway (voice of JUDI DENCH), the stately and matronly lead cow. The latter isn't happy to welcome Maggie to their fold that includes fellow cow Grace (voice of JENNIFER TILLY), ornery goat Jeb (voice of JOE FLAHERTY), Ollie the pig (voice of CHARLES DELL) and flustered chicken Audrey (voice of ESTELLE HARRIS).

Things only get worse when Sheriff Brown (voice of RICHARD RIEHLE) arrives on the scene and informs Pearl that if she doesn't come up with the money she owes the bank, her farm will also face foreclosure. Since Pearl won't sell any of her animals, she sees no solution.

Upon hearing that the reward money for the capture of Slim equals the amount owed, Maggie, on the other hand, decides that they should set out and nab the cattle rustler. Mrs. Caloway thinks it's crazy, but Grace is up for that and Caloway eventually but reluctantly joins them on their quest.

They're not alone, however, in their desire to capture Slim. There's legendary bounty hunter Rico (voice of CHARLES DENNIS) who borrows the sheriff's horse, Buck (voice of CUBA GOODING, JR.), for his ride and then decides he's not right for the job. Accordingly, the steed sets out on his own to get Slim.

From that point on, and with the aid of the peg-legged jackrabbit Lucky Jack (voice of CHARLES HAID), the bovine trio tries to find and capture Slim before anyone else does or before the rustler sells his stolen herd to the likes of cattle buyer Wesley (voice of STEVE BUSCEMI).

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
In the world of movies, plot or at least title inspiration comes from any number of places. Real life stories are obviously a good start, but it's not uncommon for TV shows, stage plays, video games and the like to be the jumping off catalysts.

Less likely but not entirely unheard of is that of a well-known song serving as the inspiration. Considering that most are usually less than 4 or so minutes long and films generally run in the 90 minute or so category, they wouldn't seem to be the obvious or temporally correct fit.

One need only look at some of the results -- "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia," "Convoy" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" -- as proof positive of that. "Home on the Range" is the latest such flick although it's more tolerable than the above. Like the first song, it's also obvious that that filmmakers were far more interested in the well-known title than what actually "occurs" in the song.

After all, unless I just missed them, the deer and antelope are MIA, various insults (although benign) are tossed about (there goes the seldom heard discouraging word bit) and the skies do become cloudy (noted by the resultant flash flood that sweeps away the protagonists). Speaking of which, the latter just so happen to be a trio of talking cows that I similarly don't recall being noted in any of the song's lyrics.

Sarcasm aside, this Disney animated film is a decent and short offering for young kids with just enough "adult" humor thrown in to appease their chaperones and anyone else of driving age and above. That said, the results are nothing special and those hoping for the creativity and smarts of the fabulous Pixar films (I know, I sound like a broken record on such matters) will certainly be disappointed.

Younger kids, however, will likely enjoy the tale of three bovines who set out to earn a reward by capturing a yodeling cattle rustler (yes, you read that right), have run-ins with various interesting characters and ultimately save the family farm.

As written and directed by Will Finn and John Sanford (both making their feature film debuts), the film feels something like an old-fashioned type animated comedy where no one -- cast or crew -- is taking much of it as seriously as those of recent who seem intent (but usually fail) at making an animated classic. The film pretty much zips by without much effort -- no doubt helped by the short running time of less than 80 minutes (credits included) -- thus giving the kids some entertainment without threatening to bore any adults who don't really get into the story.

As in most such animated offerings, there are various humorous bits and comedic asides to appease the older viewers. While that's much appreciated by yours truly, I found them to be amusing but rather mundane, much like the rest of the film, and don't recall laughing out loud at any of them.

The one thing the film has going for it is a stellar vocal cast. While I could have done without Roseanne Barr ("She Devil," "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues") voicing the lead cow in her standard "Roseanne" way, it was surprising to hear the likes of Judi Dench ("Die Another Day," "Iris"), Steve Buscemi ("Big Fish," "Mr. Deeds") and more playing various characters.

That said, their work -- as well as that by Cuba Gooding, Jr. ("Radio," "The Fighting Temptations"), Estelle Harris ("Teacher's Pet," TV's "Seinfeld") and Carole Cook ("Sixteen Candles," "The Gauntlet") -- isn't up there with the classics of animation lore. Even so, Jennifer Tilly ("The Haunted Mansion," "Monsters, Inc."), Randy Quaid ("The Adventures of Pluto Nash," "Not Another Teen Movie") and Sam Levine (who helped co-write the story) obviously had some fun voicing their characters.

Lightweight and instantly forgettable but featuring a fun country and western soundtrack and coming off as just entertaining enough for kids and adults to pass muster, "Home on the Range" will likely be remembered only as one of Disney's last traditionally drawn animated offerings. It rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed March 27, 2004 / Posted April 2, 2004

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