Following a series of high-profile commercial failures, most notably 2002's Treasure Planet, Disney has let it be known that its big, traditionally animated films could be headed the way of silent movies and Bob Hope. But while conventionally animated Disney films are knocking on heaven's door, someone forgot to tell the makers of Home On The Range, a sweet, raucously funny, comic Western that corrects a glaring historical injustice by finally surveying the Old West through the eyes of cows rather than cowboys.
As charming as it is funny, Home On The Range stars Judi Dench, Roseanne, and Jennifer Tilly as mismatched cows out to save their beloved owner's farm from a notorious cattle rustler (Randy Quaid) who reveals the secret behind his cattle-rustling prowess in a show-stopping production number. Typecast to perfection, Roseanne voices the fat, sassy cow, while Dench is the model of British propriety in bovine form, and Tilly is a gentle New Age space cadet whose touchy-feely sensibility couldn't be more out of step with the Darwinian ethos of the Old West.
Like the underrated The Emperor's New Groove, Home On The Range shares many of the virtues associated with classic Warner Bros. animation: manic energy, inspired characters and character design, a smart script equally pitched at squirmy children and parents, and deftly executed verbal and physical comedy. Perfectly cast down to minor but memorable roles like Joe Flaherty's ornery old goat and Steve Buscemi's wormy crook, Home On The Range is the rare animated movie whose success is attributable as much to its inventive, quotable dialogue as its kinetic, cartoony animation. A sappy Bonnie Raitt ballad does slow down the film's otherwise snappy pace, and Roseanne gets saddled with regrettable wordplay, but the groan-inducing moments are few and far between.
If nothing else, Home On The Range sure doesn't feel like the last gasp of a dying institution. It may seem heretical to suggest this of the studio that brought the world the emotionally stirring likes of Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Bambi, but maybe Disney should just stick to comedy.