A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"Home on the Range," Disney's new animated feature, has the genial friendliness of a 1940s singing cowboy movie, and the plot could have been borrowed from Hopalong Cassidy or Roy Rogers, apart from the slight detail that they aren't cows. The new songs by Alan Mencken ("The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast") are in the tradition of Western swing; I can easily imagine Gene Autry performing any of them, including the yodeling number, and wasn't too surprised to find out that the Sons of the Pioneers starred in a 1946 movie with the same name.
The pace is up to date, though. Gene Autry and Roy Rogers always had time to relax next to a campfire and sing a tune, but "Home on the Range" jumps with the energy of a cartoon short subject. The movie is said to be Disney's last release in the traditional 2-D animation style; its feature cartoons in the future will have the rounded 3-D look of "Finding Nemo." Whether that is a loss or not depends on how you relate to animation; there are audiences even for those dreadful Saturday morning cartoon adventures, which are so stingy on animation they're more like 1.5-D.
The story takes place on the Patch of Heaven ranch, which faces foreclosure because of the depredations of the vile cattle rustler Alameda Slim (voice of Randy Quaid). Pearl, the owner, could raise money by selling her cows -- but they're family, you see, are so presumably they'll all be homeless soon. But then the cows get a bright idea: Why not track down Slim, collect the $750 reward, pay off the bank, and save the ranch?
Each of the cows has unique qualities to contribute to this effort. Mrs. Caloway (Judi Dench) is the voice of prudence. Grace (Jennifer Tilly) is the New Age cow, who makes observations like, "This is an organic problem and needs a holistic solution." Their catalyst is a newcomer to the farm, Maggie (Roseanne Barr), who quickly becomes the aggressive, in-your-face leader. Rounding out the team is Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr.), the stallion, who is a master of the martial arts.