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HOME ON THE RANGE – Alan Menken

homeontherangeOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken has been away from film music since 1997, after the Disney animated film Hercules crashed and burned both critically and commercially. The announcement that he would finally be returning to the fray with Home on the Range was met with almost universal praise. The man is far too talented, and far too well respected to be consigned to film music history just yet. But, what does he give us as a welcome back gift…? Singing cows and yodeling. Billed as “Chicken Run with cows”, Home on the Range features the voices of Roseanne Barr, Judi Dench and Jennifer Tilly as a trio of precocious cows who go off to collect the bounty on the head of the infamous yodeling cattle rustler, Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid), in an attempt to save their ranch from falling into the clutches of an unscrupulous developer.

By all accounts, Home on the Range will be Disney’s final “traditional” – i.e. hand drawn – animated feature, bringing to an end a run of successes that began in 1937 with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and has encompassed such classic films as Pinocchio, Bambi, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book and, latterly, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. It’s tragic that such an important and influential dynasty should bow out in such an ignominious manner. In addition to the animated story-telling, music and song has always played a huge part in Disney films. Once again, tragic that such classic tradition of movie music magic should bow out with such a pile of tripe as this.

Alan Menken – who, lest we forget is officially one of the most successful composers of ALL TIME in terms of Academy Awards – has written a banal cod-western score which slavishly follows every musical convention invented to such an extent that, rather paying homage to the Coplands and Bernsteins of this world, it sucks out everything that was once great about this genre of music and regurgitates it so that, in the end, it is nothing more than a tired and insipid pastiche. How many more times are Rodeo, and all the others going to be re-worked? James Horner was writing this stuff more cleverly for Fievel Goes West ten years ago.

Yes, it’s a children’s movie, and yes, it’s a western, and yes it’s supposed to be light-hearted, but Menken’s mid-90s scores for films such as Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame were so rich and full of splendor and beauty, one longs for those days to return. To give Menken his due, the score has energy to spare. There is one exciting action cue (“Storm and the Aftermath”) and a sweeping finale (“My Farm is Saved”), and there are occasional flashes of inventiveness in the orchestration, but beyond this meager praise there is very little to recommend. If this is what we get for awaiting Menken’s return for almost a decade, I wish he’d stayed away.

The songs, with lyrics by Glenn Slater, are passable at best. Two efforts come from country artists Tim McGraw and K.D. Lang, Bonnie Raitt’s “Will The Sun Ever Shine Again” is pretty nice, and the token pop song “Anytime You Need A Friend” is instantly forgettable, but Randy Quaid’s yodeling song is the icing on the cake. Where’s Stephen Schwartz when you need him? Quite simply, it’s hideous.

Rating: *

Track Listing:

  • (You Ain’t) Home on the Range (1:13)
  • Little Patch of Heaven (performed by k.d. lang) (2:45)
  • Yodel-Adle-Eedle-Idle-Oo (performed by Randy Quaid) (2:43)
  • Will the Sun Ever Shine Again (performed by Bonnie Raitt) (2:36)
  • (You Ain’t) Home on the Range (Echo Mine Reprise) (1:01)
  • Wherever the Trail May Lead (performed by Tim McGraw) (3:33)
  • Anytime You Need a Friend (performed by The Beu Sisters) (3:21)
  • Cows in the Town/Saloon Song (1:09)
  • On the Farm (2:40)
  • Bad News (4:16)
  • Storm and the Aftermath (3:06)
  • Cows to the Rescue (3:08)
  • Buck (2:16)
  • My Farm is Saved/Little Patch of Heaven (Finale Reprise) (2:28)
  • Anytime You Need a Friend (performed by Alan Menken) (2:35)

Running Time: 38 minutes 56 seconds

Walt Disney Records 61066-7 (2004)

Music composed by Alan Menken. Conducted by Michael Kosarin. Orchestrations by Michael Starobin, Douglas Besterman and Danny Troob. Song lyrics by Glenn Slater. Special vocal performances by Randy Erwin and Kerry Christensen. Album produced by Alan Menken, Byran Gillimore, Tim McGraw and Mark Hammond.

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