Originally created 04/02/04

At the Movies: 'Home on the Range'



Ordinarily, an animated movie about talking, singing cows, which contains the tag line "Bust a moo," might be udderly (sorry, couldn't help it) cringe-inducing.

But "Home on the Range" is so darn cute, and features such an impressive array of vocal talent, it's hard not to be lassoed in.

As Disney movies go, it's not extraordinary enough to be deemed an instant classic; the story from the writing-directing duo of Will Finn and John Sanford is weak and the pacing drags a bit in the middle. But kids will enjoy the colorful characters and grown-ups will chuckle at many of the jokes.

Roseanne Barr essentially returns to her standup comedy roots as the voice of Maggie, a crass show cow who disrupts the peace and quiet at the Patch of Heaven dairy farm after her owner's farm is foreclosed.

"Yeah, they're real - quit staring," Maggie cracks as she shows off her udders; later, she looks into the bell around her neck and asks, "Is this thing on?" when the other animals at Patch of Heaven don't quite get her sense of humor.

She turns into a natural leader, though, when it looks as if Patch of Heaven also is in danger of being foreclosed. She comes up with a plan to raise the money to save the farm by going after Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid), a cattle rustler with a $750 bounty on his head for wooing cows into submission by yodeling at them.

Yes, this is as ridiculous as it sounds. When Slim bursts into song, rows upon rows of cows that look like something out of Picasso's cubist period go googly-eyed, dance in circles and turn rainbow colors. (The ironically named Slim, meanwhile, with his exaggerated goatee, resembles former New York Yankees pitcher David Wells.)

Maggie and her bovine companions - the veddy British Mrs. Caloway (Judi Dench) and crunchy-granola Grace (Jennifer Tilly) - manage to resist the musical hypnosis. But they have competition in their search for Slim from bounty hunter Rico (Charles Dennis), who's riding a hyperactive horse named Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr., doing a cartoon version of his "Jerry Maguire" character).

Among the other friends and foes they run into: the wacky Lucky Jack (Charles Haid), Disney's version of Bugs Bunny; and the weaselly cattle broker Mr. Wesley (Steve Buscemi), who looks like ... Steve Buscemi, and unfortunately doesn't come in until the very end.

Patrick Warburton (formerly Puddy from "Seinfeld") also could have used more screen time - er, microphone time - as a horse that competes with Buck. This is the kind of material for which his deep, booming voice is perfect.

But speaking of voices, k.d. lang, Bonnie Raitt and Tim McGraw, performing songs by longtime Disney composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater, provide a subtly folksy feel that's right at home.

"Home on the Range," a Walt Disney Pictures release, is rated PG for brief mild rude humor. Running time: 76 min. Two and a half stars out of four.