Movie Reviews: Homeward Bound
Delivering both big emotion and big fun, this classic remake of the classic book adaptation has faced the test of time and kicked it into the dirt.
Title: Homeward Bound a.k.a. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey
Production: Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Duwayne Dunham
Runtime: 84 minutes
Age Rating: 3+ (no objectionable content)
Summary: Chance, an American bulldog, Shadow, a golden retriever, and Sassy, a Himalayan cat, are the cherished pets of your average family. Their human owners are celebrating the marriage between their mother, Laura Burnford, and the new stepfather, Bob Seaver. Shortly after the wedding, however, business calls Bob to San Francisco for the summer, so the family must go along with him--except, of course, for their pets. Because their SanFran apartment doesn't allow pets, our animal protagonists must stay at a ranch owned by Kate, an old friend of Laura's. Because Shadow, Chance, and Sassy don't fully comprehend the reason for their staying at Kate's, they begin to fear that they were abandoned until Shadow resolves to go home. Shortly followed by Chance and Sassy, they embark on the greatest, most perilous journey of their lives.
The Good: Beautiful cinematography; memorable soundtrack; timeless story and characters
The Bad: Some silly moments breach the suspension of disbelief
The Ugly: The Director's Cut is insanely hard to find!
Children's movies get a bad rap for some reason. I don't know when this whole "I'm too mature for that kiddy stuff!" nonsense began, but it's movies like Homeward Bound that remind me that such nonsense is, indeed, nonsense. 90s Disney seemed to continuously pump out nothing but amazing movies that appealed to adults as much as children, and this classic is no exception. I have nothing but fond memories of this film, and watching it when it came out in theaters may have something to do with that. But does that mean this film has aged well? There's only one way to find out!
The first (and by far most impressive) thing that will hit you when you see this film is that it's freaking gorgeous to look at. Beautiful camera angles, breathtaking geography, lush colors; everything the camera looks at is enough to knock the wind out of me every time, and remains the aspect I've grown attached to the most. Just look at that shot when our trio reaches the top of the mountain and looks out over the entire Sierra Nevada mountain chain, and then try to convince me that you weren't in sheer awe. This film's visuals are nothing short of majestic, and I still get goosebumps watching it. And this came out nearly 20 years ago!
To pull us into the setting even further, we have a magnificent soundtrack composed by Bruce Broughton (who also did music for Tombstone, The Rescuers Down Under, and Tiny Toon Adventures) to bring out the awe-inspiring grandeur of the mountains and river valleys and everything that makes the western United States unique. But the big winner here is the movie's main theme, which will never leave your head and you won't want it to. Most studios don't give a second thought to the soundtrack for a kids' movie (unless they've got pop stars to promote), but I'm glad that at least, once upon a time, Disney cared enough to hire the best of the best for every one of their projects.
But all of that's just aesthetics. How does the narrative itself stand after two decades? Except for maybe a throwaway joke or two, this film is timeless in both its story and its characters. Nearly anyone can become engrossed in this story about being lost in a strange place and trying to find your way home, with only your friends and your hopes there to aid you. The characters themselves are also a joy to watch, with very convincing animal "actors" to undertake some amazing feats of animal acting. Even the human actors get some serious and well-written dialogue when they're onscreen, adding more depth and weight to the situation in ways that anyone can identify with. Also, with very few pop culture references to worry about (Chance brings up Rin Tin Tin as a joke at one point, but, much like today's audience, the others don't get it), there's no reason that Homeward Bound would disappoint any modern viewer.
There's only one moment in this film where I'd say Disney pushed the wrong buttons and took the "kid's movie" thing too far. It involves an encounter with a mountain lion which is resolved in a very Saturday-morning-cartoon scene, and while it's still impressive to see in a live-action setting without the aid of CGI, it's detrimental to the kinda sorta realistic tone of the movie (What? A semi-realistic movie about talking animals? Surely you jest!). And yeah, maybe there's one too many bits of toilet humor in the first half, too. Maybe it won't bother you, and maybe it will--it's just something that needs mentioning.
But really, a handful of nitpicks are inconsequential when confronted with the rest of the film's timeless greatness. On the whole, Homeward Bound is an incredibly solid family film from a long-gone era of incredibly solid family films, and it's certainly one that I would recommend to anyone who's looking for that kind of thing. Also, if you can find it, look for the director's cut--it adds a few extra scenes between the human actors to flesh them out some more, and a few more flashes of scenery porn for those of us who love scenery porn. But regardless of whether you find that extended cut or if you're stuck with the standard cut, you can't lose! You're in for a fantastic film either way!
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10. This classic Disney live-action film proves that children's movies don't have to be dumb and insulting; rather, they can be full of exciting adventure and warm emotion that few films can hope to match.