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Disney Films

Home on the Range

2004

When Disney announced that after the release of Home on the Range it would no longer use artists who were on the company payroll or paid more than "a couple bucks an hour" to hand-animate feature-length cartoons, many critics and pundits saw the decision as an end of an era. Would this be the death of traditional animation at Disney?

Speculation along these lines was triggered in part by a Disney press release that said, "Welcome to the end of an era! Traditional animation is dead, and Home on the Range is its laugh-filled musical tombstone!"

But despite the controversy, Disney's final hand-animated feature has a lot going for it. For example, it is full of raucous sight gags (what's funnier than a talking cow -- with a hat!), characters packed with monodimensionality, and plenty of "Look! He ran into something!" humor that never gets old and can be easily understood by even the most unsophisticated viewer. It's also short.

In keeping with this tone, the plot is fairly simple.

Pearl Gesner, the owner of Little Patch of Heaven farm, is in serious financial trouble, and if she doesn't come up with money for her mortgage post-haste, her farm will be repossessed. This mismanagement makes Maggie (a cow) upset, and she incites the animals to revolt by singing the song, "You Ain't Home on the Range."

Aided by Grace (another cow) and Mrs. Calloway (a cow with a hat), the animals stage a wacky revolt, driving all humans from Little Patch and forming an all-animal government. Their first act is to paint seven "commandments" on the wall of the barn:

  1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
  2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
  3. No animal shall use money.
  4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
  5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
  6. No animal shall kill another animal.
  7. All animals are created equal.

The cows quickly position themselves as the ruling class and force the other animals to support them. They make quite a number of short-sighted decisions, including trying to open cheap copies of the farm all over the world and alienating a particularly brilliant group of animals that had built a highly profitable fish pond so that the cows can keep the pond for themselves. Over the course of the film, the cows even secretly change the seven commandments until they read:

  1. Whoever speaks against management is an enemy.
  2. Whatever maximizes short-term gain is a friend.
  3. No animal shall use money for major purchases where a new show or off-the-shelf product can be used instead.
  4. No animal shall get in a bed with a business partner that doesn't worship our leader.
  5. No animal shall eat food that isn't purchased from an outdoor vending cart.
  6. No franchise shall be killed before it is completely milked for potential sequels.
  7. All animation is created equal, but computer animation is more equal than others.

The third act of the film is largely about two animals (one of them a mouse whose father helped found Little Patch of Heaven) who leave the farm in disgust. The cows use them as scapegoats for everything that goes wrong, and even when local farmers rise up in mass protest over how the cows are running the farm, the cows do nothing but give themselves promotions and cut back their work without cutting their pay.

We won't give away the film's ending, but critics agree that it took much, much too long to arrive.

For a while, the Internet was abuzz with rumors that disgruntled members of the soon-to-be-ex-animation department had loaded Home on the Range with negative references to management, but as you can see from the plot summary above, the rumors proved baseless.

Chicken Little, Disney's first completely computer-animated feature that wasn't produced by an extremely talented group of people from a different company that almost universally loathe Michael Eisner, is due out in 2006. Rumor has it that the plot involves a paranoid chicken that believes his Big Brother is always watching him. Unfortunately, it has the same writer as Home on the Range, which doesn't bode well for its commercial potential.

Trivia: This film received a PG rating because it had so many naked and semi-naked animals in it.


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