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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The good parts of Home on the Range

Yes, the story is rough, and the jokes are painful, but the movie has some strengths. Whatever else, Disney casts animated voices well as Barr is good as Maggie, who starts as an arrogant show cow before stepping it up. Judi Dench is always marvelous, with Calloway having to open herself up to not being the boss of the farm, and an outsider can be helpful. Jennifer Tilly is also a delight as the goofy Grace caught in the middle, and the idea of her being tone-deaf protecting her from Sim’s yodeling is clever. 

The rest of the cast is also good, with Gooding Jr. selling a dramatic moment well. The animation is lovely, old-school Disney, and shows the research the animators did for the American West, from the vistas to the towns, a cartoonish aspect but more vibrant than the CGI we see today.

Then there are the songs as this wasn’t meant as a musical but it works with the obvious Western themes sung by Bonnie Raitt and Tim McGraw. Also, Alan Menken delivers perhaps his most underrated musical score, the heroic themes great yet better with the melancholy as it looks like all hope is lost. “Will the Sun Ever Shine,” written with Glenn Slater, may be one of Menken’s best songs, inspired by post-9/11 feelings and hits you in the feels. 

Maybe if the story and characters had been written better and Disney got behind it in the marketing, Home on the Range might have done better with audiences. As it is, it’s been the forgotten film of the 2000s Disney roster, not helped by Barr’s personal issues since. 

Again, it’s not a good movie but not an awful one either, with some charm in the right places. It’s a shame that it has to mark the end of the Disney Renaissance, but Home on the Range is a time capsule to a period of transition for Disney movie-making and deserves to be remembered for some strengths rather than one huge negative.

Home on the Range streaming on Disney+.