Saturday, November 10, 2012

D52 - Week 45 - Home on the Range

Kevin's Little Post of Heaven
Yeah, you're gonna hear a discouraging word alright.

But first, I want to talk about a certain Chickeny movie. No, not Chicken Little. That's next week. I'm thinking of Chicken Run. It used to be one of my favorites movies back when it first came out. Watching it again just a couple of years ago, ah, not quite so stupendous but easy to appreciate. See, in Chicken Run, the motivation of the characters is driven by their desire to not live on that chicken farm. The main bummer is that every once in a while one of them - the one not producing enough eggs - gets killed. The danger is amped up when their owner is inspired to focus on the larger profit potential in using the lot 'of 'em for chicken pies. I was never sure what she planned to do after she'd run out of chickens to make into pies, especially since she'd spent money on an elaborate pie-making mini-factory, but that's neither here nor there. I mention this because this is one way to make a movie about what life must be like through the eyes of livestock. While just about all of the jokes seem super-cornball now, the story structure works in basically allowing one to feel sorry for the characters. It's a believable enough set-up with emotions one can relate to ... er, in that if I were a farm chicken I wouldn't want to be fattened up to be killed either and would jolly well like to live free, if I may.

Then there's Home on the Range. It's the opposite, in even more ways than that cows are the opposite of chickens. Whereas the chickens didn't want to live on a farm because they feared being killed, the cows really want to continue living on their farm because they...won't be killed there. Sorry for being overly cynical, but...farms do not work that way. I mean, okay, farms in cartoons and other family-friendly outlets can work that way. They do all the time. I'm sure Old MacDonald can have a farm and on this farm he does not slaughter a cow, E-I-E-I-O. So, I'll allow the very idea of the idyllic farm where the farmer dances with the animals and everyone's happy every day. However. We then have to look at the conflict. Farmer Pearl is confronted by debt collectors and needs to pay back money or lose her farm, and all I can think is, no kidding she's in debt! Her farm is only a half-acre and she's way too attached to her animals! How the heck does even expect to make money? I'm surprised she can even grow enough crops to even raise her animals, much less sell any of it for a profit, on that dinky little estate she calls heaven. Plain and simple, she does not know how to farm. She does the opposite of everything you're supposed to do to have a successful farm. She probably pours oil all over her plants, or something.
This is why the perfect farm scenario can be a repetitive children's song or even a strangely addictive video game series, but not really a movie. Now that I think of it this is just like the plight of Sykes in Oliver & Company that I wrote about back then. It's hard for me to root for Pearl because I find myself questioning the way she got into debt in the first place and what she's going to do if - no, WHEN she goes into debt again.

It's not that all of this makes it a bad movie. I just find I'm not able to relate to it on any level, and I'm not sure who would. You could say it's not really about farm life and that's it's really about family, but Lilo & Stitch did that theme much better anyway.

Plot difficulties aside, there are some things to appreciate here that make it not quite as unbearable as I prejudiciously expected it to be. The songs and music are quite good, but then again with Alan Menken responsible that's no surprise. I would say they're a little too good for these characters that I don't care for. My favorite part is easily Alameda Slim's yodeling song. As far as Disney villains - or even quirky Disney villains go, that's a pretty inventive quirk right there. There's not much to say about him when he's not yodeling, but man.
And anyway a bunch of stuff happens and then there's an action scene that takes place on a mine cart because you just have to given the setting and it makes you wonder if there were hopes for a spin-off theme park ride in the works.

Favorite character: Steer Dad. mm-HMM. Sorry, bit of inside joke there, couldn't resist.
Least necessary characters: Those two vultures seemed a bit could-ve-been-dropped-to-the-cutting-room-floor to me.
Sidenote: Before seeing the movie I saw the character design for Alameda Slim and immediately assumed he would be voiced by John Goodman. Was shocked and surprised to not hear Goodman's voice as I watched it,
Overall: While the characters and story aren't charming enough for me to recommend this with enthusiasm...some good music, musical sequences and surprisingly funny jokes (I liked that one gag with the fly, hey, whaddya want from me) are some reasons to suggest at least actually watching it before calling it a good or bad movie.

Amanda's Word Harvest

I'm pretty bummed that this wasn't a hit.  Home on the Range is one of those movies that had a lot of potential.  Like the still making toys out of it potential that Pixar's Cars had and yet it juuuusssttt missed the mark.

Home on the Range had an awful lot going for it.  The animation looks amazing and yet with a certain amount of stylization that allowed it to fit in well with the Disney aesthetic and yet still have its own identity.  The backgrounds are gorgeous and saturated and still capture that sort of rosie nostalgia that most Americans feel for the old west.

The music is spot on.  We all expect it from Alan Menken of course, but the lyrics and performances all came together to fit the theme, enhance the plot and generally give you a good solid background for the rest of the production.

I think the movie falls flat because the characters are either cliche or insufferable.  I mean really, when has anyone ever really cared about the plight of Roseanne Barr?  She is essentially playing herself in this role (burn) and because she never sounds sincere or even really emotes all that much to begin with, it's hard to like her.  Mrs. Calloway has a fabulous voice actress in Dame Dench, but she's such a static character and never does stay true to character.  Even worse, her character is constantly trying to convince everyone and herself that giving up is the best option.  How unlikeable is that? Grace (Tilly) is at best well played, at worst cliched, and most unfortunately doesn't stay true to character either.  There is a gag in which Grace as the supposedly airheaded one makes a concise speech about their goals and everyone is astonished and perhaps that would have played, but just having a breathy voice isn't enough to convey airheaded.  And don't get me started on Buck.  His frantic, squealing, karate shouting, hopping around was a) not funny, b) utterly unnecessary, and c) way overplayed.  The only consistently likeable character is the Villain, but we get stuck with everyone else.

The story isn't the best I've ever heard, but it's straightforward and gets a lot of business in without meandering around too much.  It's never confusing and still has a couple of interesting twists.  My only beef is that Lucky Jack was a bit of a Deus ex Machina in that he shows up out of nowhere and though portrayed as accident prone seems to be the most competent one of the group.

Favorite Character: Alameda Slim isn't the best Disney Villain, but he's generally entertaining and I can't dismiss a good yodel.
Least Necessary character: BUCK. UGH.  If you have a child who is so young that they can't follow a plot, then he's probably that child's favorite character with all his zippy zany zooming around, but I suspect the rest of the family will hate him.

Overall: I don't hate it.  It's worth it for the beautiful background art and the too-good-for-this-movie music. 

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