*** Official HOME ON THE RANGE Review Thread

Discussion in 'Movies' started by Ernest Rister, Apr 10, 2004.

  1. Ernest Rister

    Ernest Rister Producer

    Oct 26, 2001
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    There is a moment of true emotional poignancy in Home on the Range, but you have to wait until the credits to see and feel it. As Tim McGraw croons an Alan Menken ballad, credits for animation positions like "In Betweeners" and "Clean Up" roll by. As I watched each individual obsolete name scroll up the screen, I could see and feel one emotion:


    These positions - these people - are not needed in a CGI animation world. Clean Up Animation? The position I started in? Gone. In-betweeners? Why are these needed, when the computer has turned a drawing into a digital puppet? There is no more need to hire a team to draw the moments between key poses. The computerized puppet awaits the next frame you want to record.

    Time is saved.

    Money is saved.

    No more production assistants running down to Culver City to buy animation paper. No more money wasted on lead holders.

    And now I would like to look Michael Eisner straight in the eye:

    No more excuses.

    You have claimed that audiences have abandoned the decades-old art form of hand-drawn animation in favor of CGI animation. I say they have only abandoned weak, compromised movies. You are only making CGI movies from now on? Fine. Let's see you make some hit CGI films. Eisner - you who mandated prehistoric animals speaking in modern slang in Dinosaur, and dooming the movie in the process - I call you out.

    Home on the Range will not make a lot of money. It will be lucky to outgross Brother Bear. The reason? It is a downsized, downmarketed, low-budget, low-expectation, cheaply-made, Disney animated sitcom. The reason the film fails is the same reason Brother Bear failed -- generic, passionless, compromised writing. Disney hand-drawn animation has been degraded into the Wal-Mart of the animation industry. After scores of low-budget direct-to-video "cheapquels", Home on the Range plays like the first direct-to-video piece of junk to come directly from the failing Camelot of Disney Feature Animation itself.

    If there is any palpable sense of longing in this film, it is the realization that we are watching an American art form ride off into the sunset. I wish I could report to the world that this art form went out with a bang, but like the overly familiar T.S. Elliot quote from "The Wastelands"... this is the way the DisneyWorld ends...not with a bang, but a whimper.

    Home on the Range is not an outright bad movie. To its credit, the film strives to be a tongue-in-cheek barnyard comedy for children, with art direction inspired by the work of the late Disney animator, Ward Kimball. Kimball defied character animation dogma to create some of the most indelible moments in all of Disney animation (see The Three Caballeros, the TV show, Mars and Beyond, Lucifer the Cat in Cinderella, the Oscar-winning short It's Tough to be a Bird). There is also a strong hint of Kimball's acclaimed "Pecos Bill" short from Melody Time, as well as an outright homage to the "giant shadow" sequence from "Mickey and the Beanstalk" in Fun and Fancy Free).

    I admired the look of the film. Yet, I must confess, I cannot point to a single moment of truly great animation in the entire movie. Back in 1998, as a video thesis, I created a montage of the great moments in Disney feature animation, starting with Snow White in 1937 all the way up to Mulan in 1998. When I came to Robin Hood in my assembly, I was frustrated, because I couldn't find a truly great moment in animation in the entire film. The closest I could come was the moment when Sir Hiss "crosses his arms", and the moment when Robin and Marian swing on a rope to the top of a festival booth.

    Watching Home on the Range tonight, I am likewise frustrated, because the only moment of true visual ambition in the entire film is a CGI moment, when we experience a mine car chase very similar to the one in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Disney's mine car chase is made via computer. It is very telling that Spielberg's mine car chase is the superior effort, despite the fact that in some shots, Spileberg used nothing more than spray-painted tin-foil and a Nikkon camera shooting some rubber dolls as stand ins for the lead actors. Spielberg's chase was lensed over 20 years ago. Here is Disney working within the animated medium, and they can't top tin foil and rubber dolls. As in Brother Bear, as in Atlantis, as in the last act of Lilo and Stitch, as in the last act of Mulan, as in the disaster Dinosaur, the failure is not visual, but literal -- Disney is undone not by their glorious visuals, but by their terrible, terrible, compromised writing.

    This is why the Disney product has stagnated at the box office while Pixar's product has soared. Not the CGI. Not the hand-drawn animation. It is the poor writing that has caused Disney feature animation to fail at the box office. Pixar has earned two nominations for best screenplay in their brief existence. DreamWorks has earned one nomination for best screenplay.

    No hand-drawn animated feature ever released under Walt Disney or Ron Miller or Michael Eisner has ever been nominated for screenwriting.

    Why is that?

    Home on the Range is not an unforgivable film - unlike the outright failure Brother Bear, it does have merits in its favor. The most notable is the soundtrack. Like Robin Hood, this is a disappointing movie with great music and great songs. The songs are so good, and yet, so brief -- you can't wait for the next musical moment to begin.

    Oddly enough, just like Robin Hood, the film has an unusually appealing cast of characters. To this day, I think Robin Hood works best as a potential pilot for a great Saturday morning cartoon series. Home on the Range follows that tradition. You'll love all of these characters, and you'll want to see more of them. The film does not do justice to the potential of the warm and engaging characters that appear within it.

    One last thing...I've often written about how Disney never made "children's films", how they made "family films". Pixar follows in that great tradition. Home on the Range, like the woeful Brother Bear before it, does not. Yes, there are a few suggestive comments ("They're real. Stop staring.") but on the whole, this film is a kids film. I wish I could like it more, I wish I could say it is a smart and engaging piece of family entertainment...it isn't. It has a few laughs. It has terrific music and songs. I can't wait to buy the soundtrack. But like Robin Hood, great songs and great characters can't substitute for limp storytelling. I'm really shocked to discover that I can't name a single great moment of hand-drawn animation in the entire movie.

    As much as it pains me to say it, the last hand-drawn animated feature by Disney is also one of their weakest -- and although I adore the art-form of hand-drawn animation, I cannot recommend Home on the Range.

    -- Ernest Rister
  2. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator

    Dec 9, 1998
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    This thread is now the Official Review Thread for "Home on the Range". Please post all HTF member reviews in this thread.

    Any other comments, links to other reviews, or discussion items will be deleted from this thread without warning!

    If you need to discuss those type of issues then I have designated an Official Discussion Thread.

  3. Joe McCabe

    Joe McCabe Second Unit

    May 6, 1999
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    You know Ernest, it's funny, when Home On The Range began, the character design had the look, and the soundtrack had the feel, of an old fashioned Disney film. I thought we were at the very least, going to be blessed with a retro treat for Disney's last 2d animated film.

    But from the moment that Roseanne's character Maggie entered Patch Of Heaven, and the heavy rock guitar blasted through the theater, I knew that all hope was lost.

    The heavy guitar was incredibly out of place in this film, and was just another indicator of just how Disney "doesn't get it" anymore.

    Maybe I'm too picky, but stuff like that destroys the flow of the film.

    I agree with your entire assessment of the movie. There was once a time where this would have never passed for a Disney feature film. While, as you said, it wasn't terrible by any means, it certainly was not the caliber of what we once regarded as a Disney Animated Feature.
    Not even close.

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