It's sort of interesting to think that there was a point in time when this was the last traditionally animated Disney Animation Studios film until 2009, when 'The Princess and the Frog' revived it, and revived it quite well. But more on that when we get there. I think I'm going to take an opportunity here, however, to recap where we are in the grand scheme of the Disney animation eras. We have gone through the "Golden Age", "Wartime Era", "Silver Age", "Bronze Age" and "Renaissance", thus covering five of the known seven.
With 'Home on the Range', we find ourselves ending this Disney month-long marathon in the midst of the "Post-Renaissance" era, which indeed, includes some of Disney's weakest animated titles. I've discovered that it sort of does a 'Star Trek' think up until this point. 'Fantastia 2000', good, 'Dinosaur', meh, 'New Groove', good, 'Atlantis', meh, and it goes on like that, at least up until this point, which ends us on not only a "meh" title, but one I might actually say is just bad altogether. With most Disney animated movies that I'm not big on, I still give the film the benefit of the doubt, knowing that there might be something about it I'm not getting. But truth told this is one of the lowest-ranked Disney movies of all time. And I have to say, I can see why, but more on that in a bit.
Plot-wise, we go back to 1889, where, on the Dixon Ranch, a wanted cattle rustler named Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid) has successfully stolen all of Mr. Dixon's cattle, save for one, Maggie (Roseanne Barr). As a result, Dixon has to sell Maggie to a kindly old woman named Pearl Gesner (Carole Cook) who owns a patch of farmland known as "Patch of Heaven". Now that Maggie's safe and all, Sheriff Sam Brown (Richard Riehle) arrives to inform Pearl that she has three days to pay the bank her debt of $750, or the farm goes up for auction. Overhearing, Maggie suggests that she and the other two cows, the strictly proper Mrs. Calloway (Judi Dench) and Grace (Jennifer Tilly) head into town to try to win the money to save the farm.
Once there, the cows discover that there may be a better way to obtain the exact amount they need. They notice a bounty hunter named Rico (Charles Dennis) drop a criminal off, collect his bounty and bring his horse for a rest while he takes a new horse named Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr.), who actually idolizes him. Here is where they find out that the bounty on Slim is exactly $750, so the cows figure it would be a good idea to try to get the bounty, themselves, in order to save Patch of Heaven. It sort of ends up becoming a 'Rat Race' type movie between the cows, Rico and honestly, eventually Buck as well. The whole thing might be just fine for any kids to enjoy, but this is not something that crosses into the realm of imagination and creativity that I can appreciate.
The only thing that really holds this movie together for me in any regard is its talented voice cast (although personally, I could always do without Roseanne's voice). We have characters here I haven't mentioned yet like Slim's lackey, Wesley (Steve Buscemi), Jebb the Goat (Joe Flaherty), Audrey the Chicken (Estelle Harris) and quite a few more. Even Patrick Warburton is back here, last seen as Kronk in 'Emperor's New Groove', and arguably one of the best parts about that movie. But alas, a great voice cast is no match for weak writing and a snooze of a plot. But I'm going to be fair enough to mention that the whole Western thing has never really spoken to me, so there will be bias against this one for me, regardless (although I have seen a few that I've enjoyed)
Really though, the overall story is just bland to me, and the film lacks the imagination that has been put into the other films that preceded it, even in this era. I don't know how else to say it but there's just something so extremely basic about this one. It doesn't really seem to gauge any emotions of any sort, and by the end it almost felt like it was representative of Disney almost giving up on their once epic storytelling. A stretch, sure, but by 2004, Pixar had really taken things over in the animation department. So there's always the thought that they just weren't trying because Pixar was doing well enough for them. Soon, such things would eventually get mended... but perhaps not before the next title on the list.