Oh, Home on the Range. It really signaled the beginning of the end for traditional animation for Disney.
My memories of seeing this film in theatre are clear. I was a junior in high school and, of course, still an avid Disney animation fan (what’s changed?). I grew up during the heyday of the Disney Renaissance and remember being pumped each year for Disney’s newest animated release. Throughout the 90s, I was never disappointed (although looking back, some films are clearly better than others).
But that fervor began to wane in the 2000s. I specifically remember being a cheerleader to my friends for Atlantis before it was released, yet feeling very lukewarm on the film after seeing it. I continued to try to be a zealot for Treasure Planet, Brother Bear and Lilo & Stitch, but the films didn’t have the awe or punch of the decade’s prior efforts.
So this brings us to Home on the Range. I remember seeing it with a guy friend of mine, whose friendship never developed into anything more due to social awkwardness on both sides. But, he was funny and we had a good time watching Home on the Range in theaters, even though the final product was less than desirable.
The saddest part of the Home on the Range saga was that it signaled the end of traditional animation at Walt Disney Animation Studios. Shortly after the film was released (and subsequently flopped making only $103.9M at the worldwide box office), it was announced that WDAS was shutting down its traditional animation department forever and was fully converting the studio to make CGI films. This crushed me. As an avid hand-drawn lover, it pained me to see that the last film of Walt Disney’s rich legacy of hand-drawn films was this cow pie of a film, Home on the Range. So much for ending on a high note.
Looking back at the film now, Home on the Range isn’t that bad, but it’s not that great either, especially coming from Disney, which is synonymous with quality animated films. There’s lots of things that make this film falter, but casting the crass Roseanne Barr as the film’s lead Maggie seems to be high up there. Her character is supposed to be a bit grating at first, but this first impression makes it hard to come around to her later in the film when she becomes the hero.
The film follows three milk cows who go on a journey to save their beloved “patch of Heaven” farm from being taken over by the bank. The three cows – Maggie the leader, Mrs. Caloway the pragmatic diplomat, and Grace the innocent airhead – somewhat embody the personalities of the three good fairies from Sleeping Beauty, although due to the film’s hokey premise, they aren’t as endearing.
Home on the Range has a variety of songs throughout because, at this point, Disney established the tradition that Disney animated films are musicals. Disney legend, Alan Menken, again takes charge here, but the songs don’t have the same punch or impact in this film as they did in earlier sagas such as Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. The low point is the villain song “Yodel-adle-eedle-idle-oo,” in which the villain uses his yodeling ability to lure the steers and cows into a psychedelic trance, allowing him to capture them. Yep, that’s a thing in this movie.
I think I’ll stop while I’m ahead. Yes, Home on the Range isn’t a complete disaster, but it didn’t do the studios any favor at the time. It’s no wonder that, upon seeing this, that Disney executives decided to throw in the towel and give up on traditional entirely.
But never fear! While traditional animation hasn’t quite had the full comeback and resurgence we’ve wanted (we did get The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh), the studio itself has had a comeback in recent years and is a strong as ever. Will we ever see another traditional animated film from the studio again? Perhaps. As long as the studio keeps winning and stays away from the antics and path that led them to Home on the Range, I think they’ll be ok.
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes