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Issue: "Ugly truth of partial-birth," April 17, 2004

Disney's new animated feature, Home on the Range, may also be its last. Disney is reportedly moving away from traditional, 2D animation to focus on 3D computer-animated features, and Home on the Range is apparently the last old-style feature-length cartoon in the pipeline. Had this been true of last year's Brother Bear, it would not have been much of a loss. However, Home on the Range (rated PG for brief mild rude humor) is an old-fashioned, pleasant, undemanding feature that is agreeably at odds with Disney's other recent animated offerings.

The movie is a Western starring not cowboys, but cows-three dairy cows named Maggie (Roseanne Barr), Grace (Jennifer Tilly), and Mrs. Caloway (Judi Dench) to be exact. Maggie, an award-winning show cow, is a new addition to Patch of Heaven, the farm where Grace, Mrs. Caloway, and a host of other comical barnyard animals live. Maggie's former farm was bankrupted by Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid), a nefarious, yodeling cattle rustler. When Patch of Heaven is also threatened by bankruptcy, Maggie hatches a scheme to save her new home: capture Alameda Slim. (The $750 reward is exactly the amount needed to pay off the bank.) The three cows set off to catch Alameda, helped along the way by a horse named Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and a peg-legged rabbit named Lucky Jack.

Home on the Range might be criticized for feeling rather slight, and it is. The movie is a welcome break from self-important, revisionist ventures like Brother Bear, however, and has its own quirky charm. The bright, Little Golden Book-style animation lends an agreeably old-fashioned look to the film. There are enough jokes aimed above the heads of youngsters to make parents in the audience chuckle, but few push the boundaries of taste or appropriateness (there is some mild innuendo between the cows and some persistent bulls and a reference to the size of Maggie's udder).

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If Disney would make more films, however slight, like Home on the Range, perhaps it wouldn't need to abandon 2D animation.


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