20 years ago, this Disney animated movie marked the end of an era

In 2004, Home on the Range's failure ended the hand-drawn Disney animated era but is it really as bad as its reputation?
"Home on the Range" Premiere - Arrivals
"Home on the Range" Premiere - Arrivals / Gregg DeGuire/GettyImages
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Much is going to be made this month for the 30th anniversary of The Lion King. That makes sense, as the 1994 classic is seen as the pinnacle of the Disney Renaissance with its gorgeous animation, engaging characters, hit songs, and more. 

However, there’s another Disney animated film enjoying an anniversary this year although it’s not one the company would want to commemorate. Because while The Lion King may be the peak of Disney animation, this 2004 film was basically the end of that hand-drawn animated era. 

Home on the Range.

Even the biggest Disney animated fanatics can forget this movie exists. While not the mega-bomb some may think, its box office was a huge disappointment and pretty much sealed the end of hand-drawn animated features for the company. It does have an odd following, but also a very good reason it’s forgotten.

The background for Home on the Range

It’s always fascinating to look at the “could have been” movies for Disney. In the late 1990s, when the animated films were on fire, scores of proposals were made, with one centering on the classic tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Michael Eisner rejected that, but elements of it would remain.

It got started with Mike Gabriel pitching “Sweating Bullets,” where a young boy is knocked off a train in a robbery and ends up part of a cattle drive. It was later revised into a nervous young man visiting an Old West town haunted by a cattle rustler’s ghost who ran livestock off a cliff to add to his ghostly cattle stock. Yeah, that might have been a tad too dark.

Given this was an animated movie, it’s little surprise the character was shifted into an animal, a bull wanting to be a horse. By 1999, things were getting complicated with multiple screenwriters; Sarah Jessica Parker’s heroine turned into an elderly woman and integrated past plot ideas. 

In short, this movie went through a wild evolution that no doubt played a part in how the final film turned out.

Home on the Range’s plot

First, a quick summary of the plot. Sinister cattle rancher Alameda Sim (Randy Quaid) steals almost all the cattle of a ranch except for cow Maggie (Roseanne Barr back when she was still a popular comic). Maggie is sold to kindly Pearl (Carole Cook) whose farm faces foreclosure. Maggie clashes at first with fellow cows Grace (Jennifer Tilly) and Mrs. Calloway (Judi Dench) but when they learn the farm is in trouble, they go on a quest to catch Sim and use the reward money to save it. They’re aided by horse Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr) and one-legged jackrabbit Lucky Jack (Charles Haid), with bumbling goat Jeb (Joe Flaherty) thrown in.

The mismatched group goes after Sim, who has the ability to hypnotize cows with his yodeling. The original idea was for him to create an army to attack Washington D.C. and try to become President, but that was thankfully changed to simply Sim wanting to bankrupt ranchers and buy up their land. 

There’s also Rico (Charles Dennis), a bounty hunter who Buck idolizes and plays a part in things. It all turns out good in the end with the day saved of course yet the movie failed to connect.