In Disney's latest animated moo-vie, Home on the Range (directed by Will Finn and John Sanford), we're waitin' 'til the cows come home because the cows are on a mission to save their home … before it goes on the auction block. Range is a cheeky cattle caper—and it's terrific.
The film opens with a shot of Maggie (voiced by Roseanne Barr), a show cow, and wastes no time in justifying part of its PG rating as Maggie comments on her udders: "Yeah, they're real. Quit staring." Ah, a cow after my own heart—outspoken and sarcastic.
We then see the movie's token villain, Alameda Slim (voiced by Randy Quaid), creep onto Maggie's farm one night and steal her owner's herd. Without the farm's cattle, Maggie's owner has no means of paying the land's mortgage, so he sadly takes Maggie to her new home at Pearl's farm, Patch of Heaven. Maggie tries to keep up her fuzzy chin ("A dairy farm? Now we're talking! I hope it's not one of those fat-free places,"), but she really wants to get revenge on Slim.
Things aren't looking much better at Patch of Heaven. Pearl can't make her mortgage payment, either, and the bank wants the farm money in three days or they'll auction off the farm and animals to the highest bidder.
Pearl's farm, and Maggie's new home, is filled with a variety of quirky animals. There's a curmudgeon of a billy goat (he doesn't want to share even one of his hundreds of old tin cans with the piglets). There's a naïve chicken who responds to the pending animal auction with, "Who would eat a chicken?" And there are two cows—Mrs. Calloway (Judi Dench), a perfect English lady (she even wears a hat), and Grace (Jennifer Tilly), a new-age environmentalist type ("This is an organic problem and there's a holistic solution," she says of the goat and piglets' tin can issue). Pearl's animals seem like simpletons when compared to Maggie and her prize-winning history, so it's understandable when Maggie doesn't receive a warm welcome at first.
However, Maggie, Mrs. C., and Grace decide they must look past their differences and save Patch of Heaven from the bank, catch Alameda Slim, and bring him to justice. The cows head toward town in hopes that the sheriff can help them catch Slim. While in town, they come across the sheriff's not-so-modest horse, Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr.), who suffers from delusions of grandeur. Buck wants to ride with Rico (a Clint Eastwood wannabe and the best bounty hunter around) and has dreams of fighting bad guys, kung fu style. While in town, Maggie and the gals realize that Slim's reward matches Pearl's debt of $750. After some razzing from Buck, who bets he'll catch Slim first, the cows set out on their journey into the western frontier, a dangerous place for the girls, especially with a cow thief on the loose.
It seems that Maggie's part was written with Roseanne in mind. Her sarcastic comments ("What does she [Mrs. C.] specialize in? Sour cream?") are well-timed and delivered in Roseanne's laid back style. While the adults in the audience will probably appreciate her one-liners, most of her witticisms might go over the heads of children. But kids might also cite the movie's quips without understanding their meaning—like when Mrs. C. tells some bulls to "take a cold shower."
Like most Disney features, music plays an important part here. The score, written by Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken, with songs by k.d. lang, Tim McGraw, and Bonnie Raitt, is fittingly infused with a western flavor. There are even a couple of musical numbers, like Slim's yodeling song; listen for the line, "Pioneer pied piper in 10-gallon underpants," sung by the Willies, Slim's trio of moronic sidekicks.
Range illustrates the importance of teamwork in Maggie, Mrs. C., and Grace's endeavor to help one another. Despite some rough spots on the journey (particularly Maggie and Mrs. C's clasing personalities), the trio perseveres and works together toward a common goal. There's also a lesson in contentment: Pearl loves her farm, and the animals are her family members. All she wants is Patch of Heaven, her small piece of paradise. Alameda Slim, though, gets selfish and wants all of the land in the area for himself. Eventually, his greed catches up with him—and the consequences aren't fun.
Younger kids will beg to see Home on the Range, but adults will enjoy saddling up and going for the ride—possibly even enjoying this moo-vie more than your kids. It's udderly hilarious!
Talk About ItDiscussion starters
Note: These questions are geared to younger children.
- Can you recall a time when you had to work with someone with whom you didn't get along? How did you work things out?
- Look up Proverbs 28:25 and Job 20:20. What do these verses say about greed? How do they relate to Slim in the movie? What gives you the greatest amount of joy?
- Alameda Slim makes his fortune by stealing from other people. What does the Bible say about stealing? According to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), are Slim's actions right or wrong?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Other than the "udder humor" and the innuendo-tinged interactions between the love-starved bulls and the mission-minded dairy cows—most of which will go over the heads of young children—this film is pretty tame and safe for the family.
Photos © Copyright Walt Disney Pictures
What Other Critics Are Sayingcompiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 04/08/04
Home on the Range, reportedly the final Disney film produced through traditional hand-drawn animation, tells the story of three feisty cows who determine to save their patch of pasture by collecting the ransom for a yodeling cattle rancher. These belligerent bovines are voiced by the unlikely team of Rosanne Barr, Jennifer Tilly, and Academy Award-winner Dame Judi Dench.
The film has found a few fans in the mainstream press. Religious press critics find themselves on opposite sides of the fence. Many of them make their arguments with the use of bovine-oriented puns … for better or worse.
Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) is not terribly impressed. "Is this how it finally ends for Walt Disney feature animation—not with a bang, not with a whimper … but with a moo? There's nothing to compare with the inspired zaniness of Emperor's New Groove. Nor is there anything like Emperor's moral message, or its warmly pro-family depiction. Home on the Range is a good argument for Disney taking a break from animated features for awhile."
Similarly, Bob Smithouser (Plugged In) sends a message to Disney's animation studio: "Sorry guys, but if this is the future of Disney animation, you're in a world of trouble. It's not that [this movie] is unwatchably bad. It's just so ordinary that it barely registers. Home on the Range possesses all the sticking power of Teflon."
Mary Lasse (Christianity Today Movies) disagrees. "It's udderly hilarious!" Unable to resist the farmyard puns, she says it's "a cheeky cattle caper—and it's terrific. Younger kids will beg to see Home on the Range, but adults will enjoy saddling up and going for the ride—possibly even enjoying this moo-vie more than your kids."
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) writes, "Home on the Range proves that there is still a place for hand-drawn films. Laced with enough comic wit to keep older cowpokes from sleeping in the saddle, the film … imparts a positive message about teamwork and camaraderie."
Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) writes, "This is broad, Saturday morning cartoon fun that should please the young ones of the family. There are a few adult double entendres, which is the reason for the PG rating. I suppose the point of the film is that heroes come in all shapes and sizes. They may not be the bravest or the strongest or the wisest. … But they are the ones willing to act when action is required."
Meanwhile, Home on the Range continued to draw discouraging words from religious press critics. Kevin Miller (Hollywood Jesus) says, "When compared to early Disney films like Snow White or modern classics like The Lion King, Home On the Range barely approaches mediocre. It … fails to do what so many other Disney movies are remembered for: Create characters and a fantasy world that live on long after the movie is over." He sums up the film's message: "Revenge is okay as long as it is carried out with the right motives."
Ken Priebe (also at Hollywood Jesus) gives Home a ho-hum review: "The characters weren't endearing enough, villain threatening enough, or the emotional arc strong enough to make it as satisfying as other Disney films, but I enjoyed elements of it nonetheless."
Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more
Read These Next
- TrendingEvangelicals Are the Most Beloved US Faith Group Among EvangelicalsAnd among the worst-rated by everybody else.
- From the MagazineWhy Does Creation Groan?Scripture and science suggest that animal suffering fits into a divine artistic story.
- Editor's PickKnowing the Future Doesn’t Cure AnxietyOur true comfort comes in trusting in the one who holds tomorrow.