Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Home on the Range
Review by Sombrero Grande

Though Home on the Range is far from an unflawed film, I have to admit I had some fun watching it. Perhaps the film’s greatest asset is that it never attempts to be a Lion King but something lighter and more akin to The Emperor’s New Groove. Even though by those standards The Emperor’s New Groove is still funnier and a better film, Home on the Range has an energy and visual style to it that kept me from being ultimately disappointed.

I really dig the look of the film. The visual style mixes the angularity of Sleeping Beauty with the overtly cartoony The Emperor’s New Groove. Coupled with steadily building energy and rootin’ tootin’ music, Home on the Range has an aesthetic style which I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, it only goes downhill from there.

The story is never really engaging. Maggie (voiced by Roseanne Barr) is a prize-winning cow who loses her farm when the rest of the cattle on it are stolen away by an infamous rustler by the name of Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid, who surprised me by being really good in this role). It’s never discussed why Maggie wasn’t taken too—one of many plot holes. Slim has a unique an unexpected way of absconding with his newfound herds: his yodeling mesmerizes them and he simply walks off with the cattle following like an Old West version of the Pied Piper.

Maggie is sold off to a small farm called “Little Patch of Heaven” where things are “Disney-fied” to such an extent that the animals on the farm don’t appear to be there as food (though there are several jokes relating to their potential as meals) but to help harvest the fruits and vegetables. I had a really tough time buying this particular notion, especially with the aforementioned food jokes. Why would these animals want to save their farm when they’re just going to end up, as Sebastian in The Little Mermaid so aptly put it, “on the plate,” eventually? I mean, wouldn’t the jokes about the pigs “avoiding luaus” indicate that these animals KNOW what they’re really there for? That their presence on that farm spells their eventual butchering? If I was a cartoon pig I’d get my curly tail the Hell off of that farm ASAP and have a rousing adventure off in the wilds of the Old West…but sadly this is not the story we’re to see…which is a bummer ‘cause that sounds like it could have potential.

No sooner does Maggie show up than “Little Patch of Heaven” is revealed to be in danger of getting auctioned off just like her old farm. Inexplicably, the animals want to save their farm and Maggie manages to get the other two cows of “Heaven” to join her on an adventure to catch Alameda Slim and use the reward money to stop the auction.

There’s potential to the story, especially after other characters join the hunt for Slim, working against the cows, but ultimately the film never works as well as it could. As with Brother Bear, Home on the Range displays the main tell-tale sign that the Mouse House is out of ideas: it continually “borrows” from its past successes without any of the ingenuity the originals had. Home on the Range opens with a “that’s me and look at what a bad situation I’m in,” bit of narration that’s very similar to The Emperor’s New Groove, only Home on the Range never comes back to it again after the first scene, making it feel tacked-on. The joke where the chickens all lay eggs simultaneously when surprised is a poorly reused gag from Toy Story 2 when Mr. Potato Head hilariously “craps” his parts out of his backside upon seeing the luggage room at the airport. The musical scene where Alameda Slim charms a heard of cattle with his yodeling is fun and full of color and motion, but felt to me like a less imaginative retread of the pink elephants scene from Dumbo. There’re lots of burp jokes and animals-doing-karate gags throughout Home on the Range that feel dusty and overused as well. I also can’t forget—though I’m trying—all the uninspired cow puns in the film which must have gone over like gangbusters in story sessions yet fall flat on the screen.

Alameda Slim’s (doesn’t that sound more like a name for a cigarette than a feared cattle rustler?) idiotic nephew sidekicks were completely worthless characters. Picture Jar Jar Binks as dumber-than-mud hillbilly triplets and you’ll start to get the idea of these “comic relief” figures. I did, however, get a surprise kick out of Steve Buscemi’s unexpected character and hearing Patrick Warburton’s cameo voicing a horse (Warburton is the very funny guy who played Kronk in The Emperor’s New Groove).

It’s too bad that Home on the Range isn’t a better movie and isn’t more popular ‘cause it has the potential to make for a really cool theme park ride. The fun mine car chase at the end feels reminiscent of Disneyland’s Thunder Mountain. All the vibrant southwestern colors in the film practically plead to be recreated with black lighting on a dark ride and the character designs would lend themselves very well to figures in a Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride kind of attraction. But I shouldn’t be thinking that way. Bad Sombrero Grande! After all, it’s that kind of thinking—“let’s make a movie so we can make a ride out of it”—that led to that lumbering turkey Dinosaur.


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