’Seems there’s a no-good, sidewindin’ cattle rustler driving ranchers into foreclosure, then using his ill-gotten gain to buy their devalued property. But Alameda Slim is no ordinary thief. He’s got a hypnotic yodel that puts the herd at his mercy so he can cart ’em off to market with the help of his goofy nephews, the Willie brothers. If someone doesn’t stop him soon, townsfolk will be left tellin’ the story of how the West was lost. ’Course, there is one last hope for peaceable homesteaders—three milk cows!
When the bank threatens to auction off Pearl’s small dairy farm, several bickering bovines set out to capture Alameda Slim and use the reward money to save her farm. That’s if they can catch up to Slim before the famed bounty hunter, Rico, does.
The three cows committed to bringing Slim to justice couldn’t be more different. Maggie is brash, rude and self-impressed. The ladylike Mrs. C is proper (communicated in part by a British accent) and reluctant to leave the farm on what she considers a foolhardy adventure. They’re extremely antagonistic toward each other, forcing the third member of their trio, the tone-deaf Grace, to spout pop psychology in an attempt to keep the peace. By the end of the film, these diverse personalities learn to appreciate their differences and agree to live in harmony.
When the Sheriff suggests to Pearl that she could sell off some of her livestock to pay the debt on her farm, she indignantly tells him, “They’re family. You don’t sell off family!” Pearl is a hard-working pioneer woman who loves her animals, and her animals love her. A jive-talking horse named Buck idolizes a bounty hunter and longs to wear his saddle. When the star-struck steed’s loyalties are later tested, he chooses rightly. The farm animals think ill of a surly old goat for being stubborn, greedy and selfish. A pig says he has faith that the cows won’t let them down, reminiscing about the bovines’ past good deeds. Grace tells her friends, “Violence is not going to solve anything.” Mrs. C rescues Maggie from drowning. Buck saves the day by racing a train in order to throw a railroad switch.
“Will the Sun Ever Shine Again,” one of the film’s songs composed by Alan Menken, finds Bonnie Raitt singing, “Rain is pouring down like the heavens are hurtin’/Seems like it’s been dark since the devil knows when.” It concludes with her asking, “Will the sun ever shine? Wish I could say/ Send me a sign—one little ray/Lord, if you’re listenin’, how long until then?/Will the sun ever shine again?” A peg-legged rabbit named Lucky Jack is referred to as a wise desert shaman. A joke involves astrology (Grace tells a steer, “Let me guess, you’re a Taurus”).
A pair of amorous Texas longhorns make passes at the three cows. The film ends with those steers (and a buffalo) pairing off with Maggie, Grace and Mrs. C. It will fly over the heads of children, but there’s no denying the breast reference when Maggie, referring to her udder, says, “Yep, they’re real. Quit staring.”
The cows accidentally start a barroom brawl. Maggie and Mrs. C mix it up on several occasions, pushing and ramming into each other. There’s a lot of cartoon violence, wild chases and perilous action. Characters get punched, kicked and smacked in the face with metal pans. The goat is assaulted by piglets and landed on by a flying cow. A hapless rabbit is pursued by a coyote, birds and a hungry rattlesnake.
Buck fancies himself an equine martial artist, and is seen beating up cowboys with wild, debilitating karate kicks. The cows are threatened by a vicious flash-flood. When Slim pulls a gun on Grace, Maggie and Mrs. C, the entire barnyard erupts with animals attacking the cattle rustler. Other wild action includes runaway trains, wagons and mine cars. Lucky Jack gets whacked in the noggin with a horseshoe (one of several concussion-inducing incidents that leave the victims seeing stars).
Crude or Profane Language
No profanity per se, but expressions common in classic westerns (“dang,” “dagnabbit”) may bother parents with small children likely to adopt them. Several characters are told to “shut up.” Another says, “So long, sucker!” Slim calls people “stupid.” Modifying a crass modern colloquialism, the goat says he’ll “open up a can of whoop-hide” on someone. Maggie talks about “kicking bad-guy behind.”
Drug and Alcohol Content
Men drink at a saloon.
Other Negative Elements
Maggie belches loudly several times. After unleashing a massive burp in the farmyard, she inspires several piglets to imitate her. (Judging by the laughter from little ones in the audience, they may be next to do the mimicking.) Buck intentionally tries to throw the cows off of Slim’s trail, then lies to get back into favor with Rico the bounty hunter. Slim and Maggie both mention that they’re motivated by vengeance.
It’s one thing to be asked to produce a hit film. The creative team behind Disney’s first animated release after losing Pixar also inherited the unenviable task of proving to the world that the Mouse House can survive just fine on the strength of its own animation division. Sorry guys, but if this is the future of Disney animation, you’re in a world of trouble. It’s not that Home on the Range is unwatchably bad. It’s just so ordinary that it barely registers. While little ones may get a sugar boost-like charge out of the action and enjoy the cute farm animals, most teens and adults will find the whole thing way too bland and forgettable.
For one thing, we’ve traveled these mesas a hundred times before. The bank threatens to foreclose unless someone comes up with the money to prevent it and foils the bad guy. Since the outcome is never in doubt, the storytellers must keep us entertained with wondrous characters, witty repartee, interesting plot twists and funny sight gags. They try, but fall short.
First-time directors Finn and Sanford have spent years working on Disney features. So has composer Alan Menken, who penned memorable songs for The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and other modern classics. This movie also features big-time country music stars such as Tim McGraw and k.d. lang. So its unfortunate that Home on the Range possesses all the sticking power of Teflon. And even worse that that assessment extends to the tale's decent, but unsubstantial morals. According to director John Sanford, “There are values in our story that are good, but we didn’t want to be too heavy handed with any kind of message.” The result? Teflon. A generally harmless, but mediocre family flick.