Life was going very well for dairy cow Maggie (voiced by Roseanne Barr) until the unscrupulous cattle rustler Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid) struck and stole her farmer's herd. He had no option but to sell his land and with Maggie the only cow he had left, he took her to a small farm in the middle of the map to live out her days in peace. That place was called Patch of Heaven, and there were not too many animals there, but they were at least happy. When Maggie turned up, she promised to stir things up a bit, but not half as much as when the little old lady owner received a final demand from the bank - would she be forced to sell?
Hone on the Range, scripted by directors Will Finn and John Sanford, was apparently an anachronism even as it was released. In the 2000s, almost every Hollywood animation out there had been created on a computer and this film was notable for being stubbornly hand drawn. But as the low box office receipts came in, Disney (for it was they who had produced it) announced it would be their last hand drawn cartoon feature, ending a tradition that went all the way back to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, or yet longer if you counted the shorts.
There were soon rumblings that perhaps this state of affairs might not be the case and they were planning another hand drawn animation, but sadly this would serve to rob Home on the Range of the distinction it needed to stand out from the herd. It could be that another reason it wasn't much of a hit was that it was, in effect, a western and kids simply weren't interested in them anymore. There's the cattle rustling storyline, a Clint Eastwood-style gunfighter and some country-tinged songs on Alan Menken's soundtrack, to name but a few genre references.
Still, the plot rattles along at a fair old pace, and the voice talent is well cast. Barr might not be an obvious choice for cartoon features, but her tones are recognisable and she does portray the earthy quality of Maggie. Joining her as prim dairy cow Mrs Caloway is Judi Dench, who in true hackneyed manner is put out by this new arrival but learns to accept her by the grand finale. Also there is Jennifer Tilly as Grace, the ditzy dairy cow, and they make a solid trio when they set out to catch Slim and save the farm. Joining them is an overexcitable horse who longs for adventure, Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr), among other amusingly presented creatures.
There may be a few lapses in confidence, such as an early burping competition that doesn't really fit the gee whiz tone but at least we can be thankful they didn't resort to farting, the laziest fall back in kids' movies of the era. In truth there's not much to make you laugh out loud, but it is bright and every so often there will be a sequence that makes the best use of the medium, such as Slim's talent for yodelling that makes the cows follow his bidding (it's a psychedelic sequence reminiscent of the Pink Elephants from Dumbo, something presumably intentional). Even with the scheming of the villains, there's not really a mean bone in Home on the Range's body, and if it is forgettable in the long run, it was fashioned with skill and care. And none of the animals end up as dinner: a cartoon for vegetarians, then.