Home on the Range Movie Review

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Disney's recent, highly-publicized split with Pixar Animation Studios probably caused stockholders, executives, and outsiders eyeballing the Mouse House to quake in their boots. After all, Walt's prized studio hasn't produced a worthy animated feature-length film in years - progress peaked with 1999's Tarzan and has steadily declined from Atlantis and Lilo & Stitch to last year's bland Brother Bear.

The toppling trend bucks slightly this week with the release of the unexpectedly pleasant Home on the Range, a smart and lively adventure set on the fringes of America's frontier that temporarily places Disney's 2-D animation station back in the saddle.

Home succeeds simply by returning to basics. Imagine that. It certainly doesn't raise the bar on hand-drawn animation - figures look as boxy and strangely angular as they did in the aforementioned Atlantis. Instead, vast improvements are implemented in the crucial story and character development departments. Home actually dreams up a clever plot we can get behind, then bothers to create characters we still remember two days after leaving the theater.

It helps that said characters are three personable cows, voiced perfectly by Roseanne (the showoff), Dame Judi Dench (the rule-abider) and Jennifer Tilly (the pacifist). Their mission is simple: Somehow they must earn enough money to prevent foreclosure on Patch of Heaven, their owner's ranch. Their path of glory is blocked by a conceited stallion (Cuba Gooding Jr.), a yodeling crook who looks a lot like Bruce McGill, and a bounty hunter with a voice deeper than Darth Vader's.

Home reminds us that cartoons can be fun as well as funny. Puns blow like tumbleweeds through John Sanford and Will Finn's clever script, and the stronger jokes riff on established farm concepts. "Remember when Grace helped you figure out why you crossed the road?" one character asks a chicken. Hardy har-har.

Though billed as a musical comedy, Alan Menken's bouncy saloon tunes don't disrupt the action (take note, Phil Collins), and the whole thing whips to a frenzied conclusion that the kids will want to watch again and again. Be prepared to buy the video a few months from now. And the soundtrack.

DVD extras include deleted scenes, a short film, music video, and the usual kiddie-friendly features. Get an exclusive clip from the film here!

Shut yer piehole, pig.

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Home on the Range Rating

" Good "

Rating: PG, 2004

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