Home on the RangeStudio:Disney Year:2004RunTime:76 minutesAspect Ratio:16x9 encoded 1.66:1 (pillarboxed)Audio:5.1 English, 2.0 DD Spanish Subtitles:English for the hearing impairedSpecialFeatures:Making-of featurette, Music video, Deleted scenesReleaseDate:September 14, 2004 The Feature... So...it's the official "last hand-drawn" animated classic from the Walt Disney Studios. I'm sure that the Disney fans and casual viewers alike are wondering "Is it any good?" as, like me, you probably missed this in its theatrical run... It's cute. I'd even say "fun". Not one of Disney's best, as you probably guessed. But it's not terrible either. The story plays out predictably despite its unconventional premise...of three farm-yard cows setting out to save their endangered homestead. Dialogue is entertaining...at times a bit obvious but at times a bit inventive and overall the experience was enjoyable. The voice actors were marvelous and a few names worth mentioning are Roseanne Barr, Judi Dench, and Jennifer Tilly. Acting was good, the soundtrack was better than I expected; K. D. Lang and Bonnie Raitt both contribute some nice vocal performances and the "character songs" ranged between tolerable and enjoyable. Animation style is somewhat severe and stylized...which can be a good thing. The design has a 1960's look that will instantly remind you of the barn-yard scene in Mary Poppins (where they take a trip into the sidewalk chalk picture). The primary difference is that this execution looks cleaner without any of the sketchy outlining like you've seen in 101 Dalmatians. I found the animation style pleasing, and it's always fun (or was fun) to see the Disney animators experiment with different techniques and animation styles to distinguish their films one from one another. Action is fast-paced and one gets the distinct impression that this feature was aimed at a low-attention-span cohort of video-game-generation kids needing lots of constant commotion to keep focused on the screen. That's really my primary criticism of the film...not enough slow-paced dips to justify the high-current waves...the pacing feels like everything is continually in fast-forward motion either through story development, fast-cut scene editing, or both. Disney has dropped the occasional low-profile gem into the market like the Emperor's New Groove masked as "just another" low-tier feature and I was hoping that Home on the Range might turn out to be a hidden treasure. It didn't quite make it. Fun to be sure, but a timeless classic it is not. Enjoy it for what it is and you wont' be disappointed. I think that Fans looking to complete their Disney libraries and parents looking to buy another title to baby-sit the kids that is at least palatable to the adult mind will be able to add Home On The Range to their collection without fear... Picture... Really, really good, and I'm sure this will look great on about 95% of the displays out there, though wide-angle viewers may notice a slight problem or two. And it's better than Disney/Miramax's usual these days. What's good? colors are superb. Rich and saturated without "blooming" or bleeding. MPEG noise is also minimal...even backgrounds look solid and there's very little in the way of any perceptible digital or video noise. A decidedly "clean" picture...that's the word that kept coming to my mind while watching... "clean". I found the absence of video/digital noise very refreshing. Oh and get this...edge ringing is also at an all-time-low for a Disney animated feature...if I move up to about half a screen-width to my screen (about 5 feet from my 100" screen) I can see some very (very) mild edge ringing...but from 1.6 screen-widths back (the normal seating distance in my system and for most front-projection set-ups) all signs of "EE" are invisible and the hard-edge contours of the animation appear natural and unmarred (the animated short in the special features contrasts sharply with this by having halos so egregious that even your grandmother might notice without you saying anything). Contrast is good, black level solid, and all-in-all the picture is vivid and has the "woosh" factor on the big-screen you'd hope for from a bran-new animated feature. The let-down for me is that the image looks just ever-so-slightly softened...just barely. I spent the whole weekend up in NY at the Lafayette theater in Suffern for the 3-day film festival so maybe having just watched a steady diet of some of the most beautiful 35 mm prints I've ever seen has my perceptions a bit unfairly tuned to critically evaluate a DVD. But in all fairness I have seen some animated features look sharper and more defined... and I just can't shake the feeling that there's the slightest bit of unnecessary HF filtering going on. Not terrible...and nothing you'd notice sitting farther than 1.75:1 screen-widths away. But for wide-angle viewers you may notice what I did...that it seems that the image could have been just a *slight* bit sharper (not EE sharper...I'm talking *natural* sharper ). And color banding...I know it's been on several Disney animated DVDs as of late (Brother Bear and Finding Nemo) and I looked very hard for it on Home on the Range. Due to the stylized nature of the animation, most of the solid-field areas of the image are monochromatic and don't really reveal tones or shades (i.e., the cow is just the same color all-brown...as if colored in with a single crayon with no variation or shading) so the problem of color banding is mitigated to some degree by virtue of there not being very many gradations for it to affect. But I think that In some of the sky backgrounds I may have noticed a slight bit of horizontal color-banding...but I wasn't sure if it was a digital artifact or if it was part of the artistry of the image design. You watch it and tell me what you think. On my 16x9 DLP projector fed via DVI the left/right pillarboxing preserving the 1.66:1 aspect ratio were clearly visible, but viewers on traditional CRT monitors may not notice this due to overscan (nothing wrong with the pillarboxing bars, that's the proper way to present a 1.66:1 image in a 16x9 frame...just pointing this out in case anyone wonders why they see them if they happen to appear). All in all a very fine looking DVD. Except for the slight perception of softness that I noticed in my wide-angle viewing system, there's really nothing to complain about. Good job Disney! Picture: 4.5/5 Sound... Wow. As you might have suspected, Home on the Range really puts the 5.1 audio canvas to some good use. There's no DTS, which is a slight let-down, but the Dolby Digital track sounds so good that without any A/B comparison it's easy to be content. Dialog is smooth and natural...very smooth and natural, so much so that I kept thinking about how natural the vocals were. And the musical score illustrates this even more...K.D. Lang's songs sweep over with that lush, sultry sound you'd expect from her voice...and her voice has all the richness and depth of a good audiophile recording. Bass is used powerfully and to good effect...from the opening when the new cow stomps onto the farm to the train scene. Surround use is ample and quite aggressive at times...and always context appropriate in regards to supporting the on-screen action. Dialog also has a bit of directionality when characters step off-screen and this effect sometimes extends to the rear channels. Really a first-rate surround mix: one that shows off your rear speakers for initiating that new guest who asks you over dinner "so what's all that surround sound stuff about" and also has the elegance of an audiophile recording to back it up. Listening to this 5.1 mix has gained me much respect for those who were responsible for putting it together; clearly these folks know exactly what they're doing and are in perfect control of the medium. I could go on and on but it's really quite simple: This is a fantastic 5.1 mix and one that really takes advantage of the full potential of the multi-channel format while not abandoning traditional concepts of high-fidelity audio in the process. That's the way I like it. Good job. Sound: 5/5 Special Features... This single-disc presentation is not over-loaded with bonus materials...but that's ok...better to keep the image quality of the feature film high and present a few decent special features than load up the single disc with bogus SE content and have picture quality suffer as a result. The Balance on this disc is a good one: A few nice supplements to compliment a generally high-quality feature presentation. [*]Feature Commentary: Screen specific...the creators of the film team up to discuss various aspects of animation, story development, and technical hurdles. Not as invigorating as the very best, but not disappointing either. I think this feature will be of most interest to fans of the film who want to spend time delving deep into the process of production...casual viewers probably won't have much desire to listen...but hey...casual viewers tend not to care about commentary tracks anyway. Like all Disney/Miramax commentary tracks, you can toggle to it by pressing the audio button on your remote control in addition to selecting it from the bonus-feature menu. [*]Making-of Featurette: A nice little documentary that traces story development, choice of voice-actors, storyboarding etc. I found this very interesting...this is a great bonus feature that will appeal to fans of the film and casual viewers alike. Seeing video clips of the actors recording their dialog for the on-screen animated characters is always a hoot...especially when you realize how the animation team tried to capture the look of the real-life actor in their hand-drawn character. See what you think. [*]Animated Short: A sort of bed-time fairy tale story of sorts. It has a South-Park-esque animation style and is constructed around a humorous core that is entertaining to watch. The downside to this 4x3 presentation is that it is flagged as "video" on the DVD disc and so if your progressive-scan DVD player uses flag-based deinterlacing (like mine) you'll see some pretty ugly combing on the motion. Also, if ever there was an image to demonstrate just how badly EE can mar the picture quality of an animated feature...this is it. [*]Deleted Scenes: There's a play-all feature for the handful of deleted scenes. Every scene is interesting and every scene is preceded with an intro from the director/writer detailing the nature of the scene and why the decision was made to alter or remove it from the film. Most of these scenes are compilations of storyboarding, work-in-progress, or both, depending on when the decision was made to excise them from production. Honestly (as usual) I found myself preferring some of the deleted scenes and concepts to what ended up in the final film. The "I want to become President" scene was a hoot and would have really added to the fun/camp value of the feature. [*]Any time you need a friend (music video): This 4x3 encoded 2.0 DD music video is the quintessential girl-band music video you've come to expect to find tucked away in the special feature list of Disney DVDs. Though I'm sure someone out there will love it and take offense...to the rest of you I say beware.... [*]Games: It is a kids cartoon, after all. Some games for the kiddies which I have to say I didn't take the time to explore. [/list] Ok...not too shabby for a single-disc non-SE type of presentation. All Together... If you're like me and want to be comprehensive in your Disney DVD collecting...and are on the fence wondering if you can give money to the mouse to add this latest disc to your collection...fear not. Proceed. Not as good as the Emperor's New Groove (which I think is fantastic) but not as bad as the Lion King 2. While it's not destined to become the shining classic that will define the imagination of generations of movie-going youth with iconic significance, it's good entertainment; the Disney fanatic will probably enjoy watching it as long as his/her expectations are kept appropriately in check and the parental crowd should find little difficulty in taking pleasure in watching this film along with the family. Good-to-great image quality (depending on your viewing angle) and a reference-setting 5.1 mix make it easy to pull this one off the self when you want to watch something family friendly and put your HT to the test all in one fell swoop. Enjoy!