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HOME ON THE RANGE
Menken rustles up a treat with enjoyable, though derivative western music
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2004 Disney Enterprises, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
At the time it was released, Home on the Range seemed to signal the end of hand-drawn animation at Walt Disney, with its lackluster performance making the studio think the art form had lost its appeal. Maybe it didn't strike them that the film is a load of rubbish may have had something to do with the poor box office. Ironically, it was not until the pioneer of digital animation, John Lasseter, became the studio's creative director that traditional animation came back on the table, though one presumes the films will be some way off.
It's fitting in a way that Alan Menken, whose songs for The Little Mermaid dragged the studio out of the mire in the late 1980s, was given the task of scoring this potential landmark. The movie is far more directly comical than any of the others that Menken worked on, however, and so didn't provide him with any real chance to come up with any serious material - instead, it's lighthearted throughout, both songs and score.
The songs (all by Menken, with lyricist Glenn Slater) are mostly somewhat disposable, but all pretty enjoyable, particularly the Randy Newman-esque "Little Patch of Heaven" sung by KD Lang, Tim McGraw's "Wherever the Trail May Lead" and the highlight, "Will the Sun Ever Shine Again?" sung by Bonnie Raitt. The weak link is the inevitable pop entry, "Anytime You Need a Friend" by The Beu Sisters, but the fault lies in the production, and the song's qualities are allowed a chance to shine in a bonus track with Menken performing the song himself.
The score is pastiche through the middle, rolling out every western cliche with great panache, in a very similar way to Marc Shaiman's City Slickers scores. The main theme is disarmingly similar to "We Gotta Make it Through the Winter" from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (it's exactly the same tune! - and is probably originally from somewhere else, but I'm too stupid to know). Despite this familiarity, it's a fantastic, rousing little piece which is always welcome when it makes an appearance. Indeed, the whole score is a rambunctuous treat, expansive and enjoyable. I'm tempted to say it's enjoyable actually because it's all so familiar - there are so few westerns made these days, to hear this style of music rolled out again is actually really enjoyable.
Of course it's not on the level of Menken's classics for Disney, but the songs are competent, the score highly-enjoyable, and for once the short running time from Disney works really well, with the 39 minutes split roughly down the middle between songs and score. Menken went a long time between Hercules and Home on the Range (seven years, in fact) - let's hope it's not so long before the next one.