There's no animation studio out there that can make films like Walt Disney Animation Studios. Ever since "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" premiered in 1937, they have gone through some interesting eras and putting out some animated films of different varieties with some being the greatest animated films ever crafted. I've always been a huge fan of them and have loved a majority of their films, but I know that like any other studio they have had a few duds in their catalog with some coming from their Post Renaissance era that lasted from 2000 to 2007. One of those examples is "Home on the Range". This animated film from 2004 did well neither critically nor commercially and it ended up being the nail in the coffin for Disney's traditional animation department until it was thankfully resurrected in 2009 with "The Princess and the Frog" and I can say that I'm glad this film wasn't the one that was the swan song for the traditional animation department. This really is not a good film and I felt rather sad just watching it.
Out in the wild west in the late 19th century, a dairy cow named Maggie (Roseanne Barr) is sold from her former farm to a farm called Patch of Heaven after her former owner's cattle was rustled by wanted criminal Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid). The animals at Patch of Heaven including one of the cows named Grace (Jennifer Tilly) take a liking to Maggie though the other cow Mrs. Calloway (Judi Dench) does not. However not long after Maggie arrives, the farm's owner Pearl (Carole Cook) is informed that she needs to pay $750 to the bank in three days or else she loses the farm which will be put on auction. With Pearl not having the money, Maggie devises a plan to go capture Alameda Slim and bring him in for reward money. And so, Maggie, Grace, and Calloway set off from their farm to look for Slim encountering other animals along the way including the sheriff's horse Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr.) who believes he's a hero and Lucky Jack (Charles Haid), a rabbit with a peg leg.
Watching this film made me feel really bad for Disney Animation as they had really badly fallen during this period. Just ten years earlier, they had made "The Lion King" which is often cited as being their crowning achievement and one of the greatest animated films of all time, and then flash forward a decade and the same studio that made that and so many other masterpieces made this. What happened? Well, I did some research and I found out this story started off completely different as it was about a timid cowboy who visited a ghost town and confronted an undead cattle rustler. However, that story was retooled into the story of the three cows saving their farm by catching an outlaw and that's the film we ended up getting. The story on the surface isn't great and a little standard, but it could work if it has the right touch added to it. Instead, it feels contrived and suffers from some bad pacing problems. The first two acts of this film are very badly paced and we don't get much time to take in what's happening as this film is constantly on the move. There's not much time given to certain scenes to make it feel believable. As soon as Maggie arrives at the farm, the sheriff comes in less than three minutes later with the bank notice, and not even five minutes go by when she and the other two cows are off to save the farm. It's really poor pacing as there's not much time given to Maggie getting to know the characters and enjoy her stay at the farm to make us care about the place The film's pacing is fixed by the third act which is well-timed and works, but by then it's too late to save the film. It also doesn't help that the film feels rather standard and predictable with its storytelling with a sad scene really feeling tedious and sappy and also the humor mostly falling flat. There are a handful of chuckles this film got out of me like a scene where the cows enter the town and are scared by the sounds made by the people doing their daily activities and mistaking it for a shoot out, but there are sadly a lot of duds with most of them being really bad puns like Maggie calling Calloway "sour cream" as well as Buck referring the three cows as "three maids a-milking". They just felt rather lame. I also found the characters mostly hollow and stale. The three heroes are nothing too special. Maggie is the loudmouth who has a heart of gold, Mrs. Calloway is the stubborn cow who is disgusted with Maggie, and Grace is the neutral one who is sweet while also being tone-deaf and not being a good singer. While I did like Grace and felt she worked, I was tired of Calloway and Maggie's constant arguments. It got old after a while and I felt that the two didn't really bond very much as they should've which would've made their characters feel more fleshed. As for the other characters, Buck is especially annoying and got under my skin with his over-the-top personality. While Cuba Gooding Jr.'s charm worked in something like "Jerry Maguire", it got out of control here. Lucky Jack was a bit of fun though he was underused and I think he should've been in the film a bit more than just the opening scene and the third act. The villains were boring as well. Alameda Slim was the baddy who wants to own the land and make money that didn't do anything out of the ordinary except have a skill for yodeling which I found puzzling and his henchmen the Willie Brothers (Sam J. Levine) were basically the stupid henchmen every villain has and while that normally has worked for other Disney villains like Jasper and Horace for Cruella De Vil, LeFou for Gaston, Iago for Jafar, and Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed for Scar, the Willie Brothers stupidity was way overblown in this film and really should've been dialed back a lot. I will give credit to the animation though which was very well done. It's very bright and colorful and every character is very well animated like in every Disney film though I think this film could've used some darker tones at times to even out the light and bubbly nature the film had. With that said, I will give the animators the credit they deserve for making the film look very nicely made.
Overall, "Home on the Range" is easily not of Disney's best. While the animation gives it its all, the lackluster story and characters, unfortunately, couldn't save this film. I'm glad this film wasn't Disney Animation's last traditionally animated film because this wouldn't have been a good note to go out on. When it comes to Disney's films, this is one of the few I think you should skip. It's pretty much sour milk.