Thursday, May 13, 2004

"Home On The Range" - Will Disney Really Lose The Animation Ranch?

For Mother’s Day, I dropped the missus off at the spa, and took the girls to see Disney's Home On The Range. They seemed to enjoy it: they laughed a couple of times, and asked to stay for the closing credits because they liked the music. I noticed, though, that they'd polished off the popcorn - a first. Back in the car, I asked them what they thought.

"Pretty good."

You liked it?


What was your favorite part?

"Well," said the youngest, "it's hard to say."

Who was your favorite character?

"The big cow. I forget her name."

I thought about this answer for a bit, then asked, "Is there anything about the movie you enjoy remembering?"

The oldest piped up: "It's kind of a hard movie to remember, Dad."

Michael Eisner's target audience has spoken: Home On The Range is forgettable. It's also a mess. Disney hasn't churned out an animated feature so hopeless since The Aristocats, and those of us who were around for that debacle thought we were witnessing the final nail in Disney Studio's coffin. Now Eisner has announced Home is Disney's final cel-animation feature. In other words, parents of young children should brace themselves for a glut of CGI features, held together with the same wheezy plotlines and forced yuks we were exposed to in Brother Bear, Treasure Planet, and ...uh... those other movies I forget.

Returning to Home, even the look of it kept me at arm’s length. I enjoyed the neon color-schemes of the various landscapes (replete with the squiffy "black-light" effects at sundown), but my pleasure ended there. I can't imagine how you'd make compelling characters out of cows, and apparently neither could Disney. Even the humans were an off-putting bunch - blatant (and shabby) knock-offs of Disney’s distant competitors: Hanna-Barbera (with the George Jetson ski-slope noses) and Warner Brothers (huge mustachioed galoots resembling "Yield" signs). At an absolute minimum, you can usually rely on Disney artists to serve up a curvaceous dish or two, but even here the movie disappoints: besides the cows, the only female we get is a dumpling-shaped spinster.

The film made me really, really pine for Lilo & Stitch - Disney's only anti-Disney animated feature. Besides the story, which is a winner, we have superb artistry in every frame. Lilo & Stitch introduced the neon palette (nice), and populated Hawaii with fabulous otherworldly creatures, who somehow don't seem out-of-place next to the humans. The human managerie includes the standard moppet (Lilo, whose anti-social behavior is anything but Disney-issue), a muscular heavy ("Bubbles"), and a pallid/sunburned Sysiphus whose efforts at eating ice-cream are continually foiled. As for eye-candy, we have Lilo's older sister, Nani, and her erstwhile boyfriend David, both drawn in a fashion that eschews the usual willow-waist proportions in favor of a style suggestive of Crumb: articulate muscularity in the shoulders and lower body (feet, calves, and derriere - rowgh!). Better still, they're characters - people you actually care for.

I wish Disney would keep their animation studio open. They built their reputation in film there, and it would be a shame if they didn't at least attempt to keep that reputation intact - even if a Lilo & Stitch only comes every dozen films, or so.

Other recent Disney Delights: The Emperor's New Groove gets funnier with each successive viewing; and Tarzan is also a winner.

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