First of all, your story has to be set in the American West. Then -- given that your film must feature a figure who sits tall in the saddle -- it just stands to reason that you're also going to need a horse in there somewhere. You then send these two off on an epic journey where they face plenty of hardships. Throw in a few colorful supporting characters as well as a villain or two ... And -- Presto Change-o! -- you've got your standard Hollywood western. (John Ford would be so proud of you!)
But the folks over at Disney ... They don't like doing things the same old standard way. The production team at Walt Disney Feature Animation as well as Walt Disney Pictures, they like taking Hollywood's old recipes and mixing them up a bit. Changing an ingredient here and there to see if they can come up with something new.
Happily, that's just what the Mouse House got when it recently monkeyed with Tinsel Town's tried-and-true formula for a successful western. In "Home on the Range," Disney's traditional animators created an oater where it's the cows -- rather than the cowboys -- that ultimately save the farm. Whereas "Hidalgo" ... Well, that's a more traditional western. The gimmick here is that this Viggo Mortensen film is set in the Middle East.
If I had to play favorites here ... Given my love for animation, "Home on the Range" would be the first of these two that I'd be popping in my DVD player tonight. After all, this April 2004 release occupies a soft spot in all us toon fan's hearts. Given that "HOTR" looks to be the last traditionally animated film that Walt Disney Feature Animation will be producing for a while.
Even if "Home on the Range" DOES turn out to be Disney's very last traditionally animated feature, it's nice to see that the unit went out in style. For this John Sanford & Will Finn film looks great, is funny as hell and -- more importantly -- has the one ingrediant that many recent WDFA projects have so sorely lacked: heart.
"HOTR" 's story concerns the plight of Pearl, the kindly ol' widder woman who runs Patch of Heaven (Which -- according to the song that Alan Menken & Glen Slater wrote for k.d. lang about this ranch -- is "... the sweetest sight that you ever done seen"). It seems that Pearl has fallen behind on her mortgage payments. So -- unless she can come up with $750 and fast -- Little Patch of Heaven will be sold off at auction.
Well, this bit of news doesn't go over all that well with the animals who live on Pearl's ranch. Particularly a trio of cows -- quirky Grace (voiced by Jennifer Tilly), prim Mrs. Caloway (Dame Judi Dench) and brash newcomer Maggie (Roseanne Barr). These brave bovines decide that it's up to them to save the farm. So Grace, Mrs. Caloway and Maggie exit Patch of Heaven and go off in search of Alameda Slim.
"And just who -- might I ask -- is Alameda Slim?," you query. Just the funniest villain to pop up in a Disney animated feature in the past few years. Ably voiced by Randy Quaid (And -- more importantly -- beautiful drawn by industry vet Dale Baer), Alameda is this unlikely combination of elements. A big beefy guy who's really light on his feet. He's also an ambitious schemer with a (frankly) ridiculous plan (I.E. Slim plans to acquire every ranch in the territory by rustling all of these ranchers' cattle. And just how did Alameda steal all those steers? He just "puts them in a trance" with his awesome yodeling ability).
Like I said earlier, the character of Alameda Slim shouldn't have worked. But then this whole film -- with its cockeyed comic premise -- shouldn't have worked either.But "Home on the Range" does. It's this wildly funny animated feature with several memorable songs & many colorful characters. "HOTR" is a movie that I really enjoyed when I saw it in theaters earlier this year. And I'm thrilled to see that Buena Vista Home Entertainment did such a nice job with this DVD.
Of course, I do have a few minor quibbles about the disc. Yeah, it's nice to have those four deleted scenes (Particularly that one where Alameda reveals his ambition to run for President one day). But would it have killed the guys at WDFA and/or BVHE to at least give us a little taste of the earlier version of this film? You know, "Sweating Bullets?" The ambitious animated western that "The Two Mikes" (I.E. Mike Gabriel & Mike Giamo) labored on for years ... Before Sanford & Finn came along and used Gabriel & Giamo's premise as the springboard for their subversive little western.
Speaking of sweating ... Let's now talk about "Hidalgo," another recent release from Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
Ladies certainly get hot under the collar whenever they see Viggo Mortensen. Which is why the execs at Walt Disney Studios thought that they were doing a pretty smart thing when they hired this "Lord of the Rings" hunk to play western legend Frank T. Hopkins. And Viggo does a nice job with the part of Frank Hopkins. Playing a Pony Express rider who -- back in the - along with his mustang, Hidalgo -- became renown for his riding ability. This man-and-horse team were winners of numerous long distance races. But -- as "Hidalgo" starts -- Frank and his mustang have fallen on hard times. Hopkins has become a drunk. His racing days seemingly behind him, Frank & Hidalgo are reduced to making appearances in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
Things look pretty bleak for this pair. Until Frank gets an invitation to take part in the "Ocean of Fire," this infamous competition where the worlds very best riders and thoroughbreds race across the deserts of the Middle East. Does this broken down cowpoke and his loyal mustang still have what it takes to survive a race across this savage terrain? (Come on, folks! This is -- after all -- a Disney film. What do you think happens?)
Filmed on location in Moroco, "Hildago" certainly looks great. And the picture's directed with plenty of panache by Disney studio vet Joe Johnston (Joe is probably best known to Disneyana fans for the wonderful job he did helming 1989's "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" and 1991's "Rocketeer"). So this Touchstone Pictures release is sure to please any of you horse fanciers and/or "Lord of the Rings" fans out there.Soooo ... Is this DVD worth buying? Well ... That depends on how much of a mustang or Mortensen fan you are. Me personally? I think that this flick is at least worth a rental.
As for the extra features that you'll find on this Disney DVD ... Well, they're kind of on the skimpy side. I mean, sure, they've tacked on that "Sand & Celluloid" featurette. Which reveals how ILM pulled off many of this film's eye-popping special effects sequences. But -- come on -- where's Joe Johnston and/or Viggo Mortensen's commentary track? Wouldn't it have been great to hear what these guys had to say about all the effort it took to pull together this ambitious feature (Which was rumored to have cost as much as $90 million)?
Anyway ... If you're tired of looking at the same old sorts of oaters, then you may want to consider taking a look-see at "Home on the Range" and "Hidalgo." Two new westerns that take Hollywood's old formulas ... and give them a twist!