Ultimately, there are only two fully animated, cel animation Disney theatrical releases that qualify as genuine disasters. The first is the ambitious but hopelessly ponderous film version of The Black Cauldron from the Eighties; the second is this one.
This is the kind of movie that assumes kids will watch any damn thing; objectionable as it is, it’s hardly unheard of, but it’s particularly unfortunate here since Disney has always considered this beneath them even on their worst days. Well, their theatrical division has, anyway; the truth is, this film actually plays in a surprisingly similar style to their deluge of direct-to-video franchise sequels from around this time.
This is one of those plots that you can’t believe got past the early pitch stages at a professional movie studio: three cows with celebrity voices capture a yodeling cattle rustler. Judi Dench and Jennifer Tilly actually manage to get a few mild laughs as two of the cows, but Roseanne Barr, as the movie’s protagonist, gives a surprisingly colorless performance. Say what you will about Roseanne, but love her or hate her, she’s a big, room-filling presence on screen. But when all you can hear is her voice, that big presence simply doesn’t translate, and her performance is neither funny nor obnoxious, but simply unmemorable.
The jokes are mostly of the sort aimed at little kids who can’t really comprehend humor yet, and the score is one of Alan Menken’s weakest efforts for Disney, right down there with his score for Hercules. Menken did contribute one fine song, the touching Bonnie Raitt ballad “Will the Sun Ever Shine Again”, but this is offset by some unbelievably hokey material elsewhere, including an embarrassing yodeling showcase for the villain.
This film is particularly hated because its disappointing performance and critical thrashing actually almost killed the entire medium of cel animation, leading Disney to shut down the entire animation division for years to come. But frankly, I imagine it would be almost as hated on its own merits alone; this would be a disgrace to Disney’s reputation even without the spectacularly bad timing of its disastrous release. While they’ve certainly done worse movies, precious few of them actually made it into theaters or became part of their much-vaunted ‘Disney Animated Canon’, so the reaction most of their fans have to this movie’s existence is more than understandable.