Home on the Range may be the most curious production ever released by Walt Disney Feature Animation. The perplexities are myriad but they truly boil down to two niggling inquiries: how and why was this film made? It is easy to see how the high concepts of films like Treasure Planet and Atlantis: The Lost Empire secured their respective productions the coveted greenlight, but how were the studio brass of the early 2000s adequately convinced of the box office prospects of a musical Western starring a cow voiced by Roseanne Barr? The final film is an anachronistic jumble of down-home, simple pleasures and brash, in-your-face hijinks. It is decidedly the product of a studio that had, for all intents and purposes, lost its way. Admittedly, this confusion occasionally resulted in some great left-field work, notably Lilo & Stitch, but that charming film was easily the diamond in the rough.
The screenplay to Home on the Range unfolds like it was hastily scribbled out over the weekend. It is as if the filmmakers came up with a title and then wrote down the first ideas that popped into their heads, never bothering to refine or question their work. The film stars three cows, voiced by Judi Dench, Jennifer Tilly, and the aforementioned Roseanne. One of the cows is a stuck-up society woman, another a beatific airhead, and the last a brash, loudmouth. Try and guess who is who. The cows are faced with eviction from their peaceful little farm by a villainous cattle thief whose reward bounty happens to be the exact price needed to save their property. The cows decide to track the thief down themselves and they set off across the vast, unknown prairie. The script contains two modes of humor, the first being the inappropriate release of bodily functions, with Roseanne's heifer Maggie starting up an impromptu belching contest with three little piggies. She also works blue, telling some ogling farm animals that her mammoth udders are in fact, real. The second brand of humor is the dreaded pun, with the characters checking off every lazy bon mot that could be haphazardly stretched to the farm setting. These include such choice turns of phrase as, "phony express", "wake up and smell the alfalfa", and "what does she specialize in, sour cream?" the latter referring to Dame Judi Dench's haughty behavior.
The soundtrack is the best to come from either Disney or Alan Menken in a good long while. Working with the cowboy setting, Menken churns out a batch of Western songs, the best being the title track, which plays twice in the feature and is reminscent of the popular balladeers, The Sons of the Pioneers, who along with their lead singer, Roy Rogers, appeared way back in 1948's Melody Time. Home on the Range's tunes are sung by a cavalcade of capable contemporary country crooners, including k.d. lang, Bonnie Raitt, and Tim McGraw. Even the ballad this time around, "Will the Sun Ever Shine Again" passes by with a modicum of decency. Of course, the plot mechanics unspooling underneath the song's melodies are the most bland, forced attempts at sentimentality one could muster, which completely undermines the attempted effect.