I love it when Disney doesn’t take itself too seriously.
No one tried to reach for the stars or make this into a classic. It’s just a cute little story about some not-so-contented cows who save the day. It modestly aspires to be nothing more than a lot of fun, and it does that job very well.
Maggie (voice of Roseanne) is a brassy but warm-hearted cow who arrives at the Patch of Heaven Dairy Farm just as the bank is about to foreclose its mortgage and put it up for sale. Her previous farm was sold after cattle rustler Alameda Slim (voice of Randy Quaid) stole the rest of the herd. Mrs. Calloway (voice of Dame Judi Dench), the highly civilized alpha cow of Patch of Heaven, is offended by Maggie’s brash wisecracks, but the other animals are more welcoming, and Maggie is determined not to lose another home. When she comes up with a plan to save the farm by capturing Alameda Slim for the reward money, Mrs. Calloway and gentle but tone-deaf Grace (voice of Jennifer Tilly) go along.
They meet up with Buck (voice of Cuba Gooding, Jr.), a horse who wants to be a hero, and with Lucky Jack, a peg-legged jackrabbit (voice of Charles Haid). In the movie’s just-over-an-hour running time the five animals will get in each other’s way more often than they help each other, but they will provide moments of wit and heart and even a thrill or two, along with sparkling musical numbers from Disney’s best contemporary composer, Alan Mencken (The Little Mermaid and Aladdin), sung by country stars k.d. lang, Tim McGraw, Bonnie Raitt, and The Bleu Sisters.
The style and music of the film harks back to Disney’s 1950’s featurettes like “Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom,” “Donald in Mathmagic Land,” and “Pecos Bill.” Pearl, the owner of the Patch of Heaven farm (voice of Carole Cook), could be Sluefoot Sue, thirty years later. The characters are vivid, the animation is superb, and the balance between sweet, silly, and exciting is expertly handled.
Parents should know that the movie has some peril (no one hurt) and mostly comic action sequences. A roller-coaster-ish ride may be too intense for the youngest children. The movie has brief crude humor, including a quick cross-dressing joke, and some mild language. Some children may be upset by the idea of having a bank foreclose a mortgage and might need to be reassured that their home is safe.
Families who see this movie should talk about why Mrs. C and Maggie don’t get along. How are they different and how are they alike? Why did Alameda Slim want all the land for himself? What made the animals at the Patch of Heaven farm feel like a family? How are they like your family?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the farm animal stories Babe, Milo and Otis, and Charlotte’s Web (be sure to read the book, too). They might also like to try to yodel!