Home on the Range is an animated musical film that is directed by Will Finn and John Sanford, and released by Walt Disney Pictures in 2004. This movie serves as the second to the last traditionally animated film for Disney (with the last being The Princess and the Frog in 2009), as the company would later move on to focus on 3D computer animation. The fall of traditionally animated films in the Western film industry is often blamed on Disney, who produced multiple animated movies in the 2000s that are considered to be box office failures, like Treasure Planet in 2002. The Princess and the Frog and Home on the Range were the last straws for Walt Disney Pictures to continue making traditionally animated films until they move on to 3D animations. Although The Princess and The Frog did well in the box office, Home on the Range was a flop, and there are many reasons as to why it failed in the box office. To find out these reasons, here is the production history and reception of Home on the Range.
After directing the animated film The Rescuers Down Under in 1990, the original director for Home on the Range, Mike Gabriel, wanted to adapt and direct animated movies involving Western legends like bison hunter Buffalo Bill, fictional cowboy Pecos Bill, and sharpshooter Annie Oakley. These ideas came to Mike Gabriel before the production of Pocahontas (another film he directed) and wanting to waste no time to make these ideas into reality, Gabriel talked to the executives of Walt Disney Pictures for his ideas. However, Disney wanted Gabriel to finish the production of Pocahontas first before getting into the movies about Western legends.
Months after the release of Pocahontas in 1995, Mike Gabriel presented a forty-page film treatment to then-Feature Animation president of Disney Peter Schneider, and after it was approved and praised by Schneider, the film was given the title “Sweating Bullets.” The original story for the animated movie involves a timid cowboy that visits a ghost town and battles supernatural forces.
Midway through the creation of background art and concept designs for characters in 1999, story artist Michael LaBash suggested that the movie should have a different story. LaBash’s conceptualized story is about three cows that became bounty hunters to save the farm where they live, and this concept would later be polished by other story artists, such as Robert Lence, Shirley Pierce, Mark Kennedy, and Sam Levine. Because of clashes with how the movie’s story should be written, Mike Gabriel and co-director Mike Glaimo were forced by Disney to leave the project in 2000. Will Finn and John Sanford were then hired to become the directors of the renamed movie “Home on the Range” around the same year.
During its opening weekend in the first week of April 2004, Home on the Range grossed $14 million in box office sales, and it only opened fourth behind Hellboy, Walking Tall, and Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. Because of the animated film’s poor performance in the box office, many movie critics consider Home on the Range to be one of the biggest movie flops in 2004, although it was able to gross $145.5 million out of a $110 million budget.
The failure of Home on the Range in the box office is mainly attributed to its poor reception from the audiences and film critics, who criticized the film’s all-over-the-place plot and outdated visuals. However, there are some critics who stated that the film is still a fun watch for kids, but they don’t consider it to be memorable for adults because of its boring story that is only interesting to children due to several exciting action sequences.
According to animated film enthusiasts, the convoluted and dull plot of Home on the Range is caused by it being stuck in development hell, which is brought by Mike Gabriel and the story artists not agreeing on several story elements in the movie. Since the story was conceived in 1995 and the film was only released in 2004, that is about nine years of Home on the Range being in development. In addition, because of the long development time for the movie, its budget ballooned until it is expected that it may not be able to break-even its budget with its box office sales.
After the premiere of Home on the Range in 2004, Will Finn moved on to direct and draw for several low budget animated films and shorts, making Home on the Range the biggest project in his portfolio. As for John Sanford, it is believed that he continued to work as a storyboard artist for smaller companies, although he recently worked for DC as a director for nine episodes of the DC Super Hero Girls series in 2019.