Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Home on the Range Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
For the first time on Disney Blu-ray come join the fun as the resident animals of a dairy farm go bounty hunting for a notorious outlaw to save their home.  When a greedy outlaw schemes to take possession of “Patch Of Heaven” dairy farm, three determined cows, a karate-kicking stallion named Buck, and a colorful corral of critters join forces to save their home. The stakes are sky high as this unlikely animal alliance risks their hides and match wits with a mysterious band of bad guys.  From the stunning animation and some new original songs written by Alan Menken – Academy Award winning composer of Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin – Home on the Range is a fun-filled adventure for the whole family!

Film (3 out of 5 stars) 

When Maggie (Roseanne Barr) a prize-winning cow is sold by her owner to an elderly woman named Pearl (Carole Cook), she has to adjust her diva-like ways on the new farm known as Patch of Heaven.  Her new home is soon in trouble too as Pearl is about to lose the farm for falling behind on her bills.  Pearl is given three days to come up with the money or her farm will be sold to the highest bidder which will most likely be Mr. O’delay who has been buying up all of the farms.  Maggie decides to help Pearl and she convinces the other cows Grace (Jennifer Tilley) and Mrs. Calloway (Judi Dench) to try to raise some money by trying to win some prize ribbons in the local fair.
When the cows arrive in town, they notice a bounty hunter named Rico (Charles Dennis) collect the bounty for turning in a criminal he captured.   Rico is famous in the town, but his biggest fan is the Sheriff’s horse named Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr.) who dreams of being Rico’s horse and capturing bad guys.  When Rico tells the Sheriff that he needs a replacement horse to go after the most infamous cow rustler of them all – Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid), Buck’s dreams come true when he is selected by Rico.  Maggie discovers that the reward for the capture of Alamida Slim is $750 which is exactly the amount that’s needed to save Patch of Heaven, so she convinces the other cows to join her in trying to capture Slim.
Later that night they hide with the rest of the other cows by blending in, but when Alameda Slim shows up and starts yodeling (which has a hypnotic effect on them),  all of the cows (except Grace who is tone deaf) follow his lead to his hideout.  Grace manages to wake up Maggie and Mrs. Calloway in time before Slim causes a rockslide to block his pursuers from following him.  While Rico makes plans with his men about what to do next, Buck starts gloating about his new position to the cows.  In his his excitement, Buck goes into a huge routine for the cows about how he was going to take out villains, but all Rico sees is a horse acting weird around cows so he thinks that Buck is too skittish near cows and replaces him with another horse.  Buck is devastated but he decides to capture Slim himself to show Rico and the Sheriff how good he is.
So with Rico, the cows, and now Buck chasing after Alameda Slim, it’s just a matter of who can capture him first.  While Rico and Buck race to where they believe Slim is hiding out, the cows are fortunate enough to meet a rabbit named Lucky Jack (Charles Haid) who knows the way to Slim’s hideout that’s hidden inside of a mine.  When they finally manage to find the hideout, the cows discover that Slim’s plans go far beyond just cow rustling.  Now Maggie, Grace, and Mrs. Calloway have to figure out how to capture Slim and his accomplices before Rico and Buck do to save a Patch of Heaven from being auctioned off.
As Disney’s only western, Home on the Range offers a cute if somewhat inconsequential tale that’s entertaining but doesn’t have the lasting appeal that Disney’s classics usually engender.  I would have preferred a tale that focused on Buck instead of a group of cows and that they really focused on making a true western.  That’s not meant as a slight against the cast, who are all uniformly good in their roles, but the movie seems like a lost opportunity to me.  While I was hoping for more of an actual action-adventure story set in the wild west, the filmmakers wanted to tell a story about fitting in and finding your place amongst the herd.
There’s some beautiful animation in this film which was important since for a long time, this movie was billed as Disney’s final 2D animated movie as they were about to fully transition to making 3D movies liked their brethren company Pixar.  Fortunately, that didn’t come to pass permanently as Disney has resumed making traditionally animated films again, starting with The Princess and the Frog.  As I mentioned earlier, the cast in this are all very good in their roles and they are perfectly cast.  Roseanne Barr is an inspired choice for the sarcastic and sassy Maggie, Jennifer Tilly brings the sweetness to Grace, and Judi Dench is the model of proper etiquette as Mrs. Calloway.
Randy Quaid is an unexpected but great choice as the villainous Alameda Slim.   Cuba Gooding Jr. is great as the excitable Buck, while Charles Dennis does a great turn as the ultra cool bounty hunter Rico.  Steve Buscemi even has a small role in this which always helps.  The music in the movie is geared to country music fans and it isn’t as memorable as other Disney soundtracks even though the score was done by Disney legend Alan Menken.  Home on the Range isn’t one of Disney’s better efforts, but it’s fun and entertaining and a movie that the whole family can watch together.

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

Disney consistently puts out some of the finest looking Blu-rays to hit the market and while this one isn’t one of their best efforts, it does look pretty good.  This 1080p (1.78:1) transfer has some fine detail and the colors jump off the screen.  The desert landscape with all of its multiple hues looks fantastic on the transfer.  When Alameda Slim starts his yodeling, the hypnotic colors pop off the screen and are very reminiscent of the scene from Dumbo where he sees the pink elephants.   The detail present is impeccable and the black levels are dark and solid.  There are some slight digital defects present but not enough to ruin the rest of the picture quality.

Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Home on the Range’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix on the other hand does measure up to Disney’s usual high quality releases.  All of the channels are used well, with the front channels providing some clean and crisp dialogue and the rear channels taking care of the music by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater and some highly accurate directional effects. The LFE channel also gets a workout  with cattle stampedes and more than really packs a wallop.  While this mix doesn’t measure up to recent Disney efforts, it does sound very good for its age and fans should be happy about it.

Extras (3 out of 5 stars) 

I was hoping for a more robust assortment of special features but it didn’t happen.  Instead we get some short featurettes that only touch on the surface of what could have been covered.
  • Audio Commentary - Producer Alice Dewey and co-writers/co-directors Will Finn and John Sanford supply a genial commentary track that is entertaining enough but lacks the more in depth details that fans of the movie would like.  There are some laughs but I wish they had gone into more detail about the film’s evolution.
  • Trailblazers: The Making of Home on the Range - This is the most in depth look behind the scenes you are going to get on this disc and at seventeen minutes, it’s not that long of a look.  Despite its brief running time, it does manage to cover just about every aspect of the production.
  • Art Review - This is a ten minute look about the film’s artistic inspirations that’s hosted by the film’s Art director David Cutler and background supervisor Cristy Maltese.
  • Deleted Scenes – There’s four deleted scenes included:  ”Heroes, Villains & Cows,” “Slim for President,” “Coyote Chase” and “Meet Lucky Jack”  and they are introduced by  co-writers/co-directors Will Finn and John Sanford.
  • A Dairy Tale: The Three Little Pigs - This is a three minute tale that’s narrated by Judi Dench.
  • Music Video - The music video by the Beu Sisters, “Anytime You Need a Friend.”
  • Yodelmentary - This ended up being my son’s favorite extra as he thought it was fun to yodel.  If you are interested in yodeling too, then this is the extra for you.
  • Joke Corral: Herd of Jokes – My son also liked this extra but I hated it.  It’s a bunch of terrible jokes told in kind of the Hee-Haw style of doors opening and closing so the animals can tell their lame jokes.

Summary (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Home on the Range as a movie and as a Blu-ray isn’t one of Disney’s finest efforts, but it offers some laughs and it’s a nice change of pace to see Disney tackle a western.  While this isn’t the kind of western that I would have preferred, my son enjoyed it (especially the yodeling) and the voice cast all do a nice job in their roles.  The picture quality is pretty good and the audio mix shows some impressive range.  The extras could have been a lot better, but since this was never a big hit for Disney, I guess we are lucky to get as good of a release as this one anyway and this is most likely the best version of the movie we will see.
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