Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993) / Adventure-Family
MPAA Rated: G, suitable for all audiences
Running Time: 84 min.
Cast: Michael J. Fox (voice), Don Ameche (voice), Sally Field (voice), Benj Thall, Robert Hays, Kim Greist, Kevin Chevalia, Veronica Lauren, Jean Smart
Director: Duwayne Dunham
Screenplay: Caroline Thompson, Linda Woolverton (based on the book, "The Incredible Journey", by Sheila Burnford)
A Disney remake of the 1963 film, The Incredible Journey, based on the book by Sheila Burnford, Homeward Bound is a sure-shot winner for kids and animal-lovers alike. It definitely is a film that rides high on charm and cuteness, so expect opinions on it to vary, depending on how taken in you are to the plight of the animals and their perilous adventure.
The story focuses on the three pets of the Burnford family: an aging Golden Retriever named Shadow (voiced by Don Ameche, Trading Places), an immature American Bulldog named Chance (Michael J. Fox, The Hard Way), and a snarky Himalayan cat named Sassy (Sally Field, Smokey and the Bandit II). They have a relationship of tolerance in the Burnford home, but find they must come together when they are left for a spell at the home of a family friend while the Burnfords take a trip to San Francisco. Shadow, expecting the immediate return of his beloved human friend Peter Burnford (Benj Thall, Repossessed), thinks that something must be wrong with him, so he makes his escape from the farm to find his owner. Chance and Sassy follow closely behind, and together, they travel through the forest and river country of California in search of their family, overcoming dangers such as mountain lions, bears, porcupines, and constant hunger.
Despite being filled with an overriding predictability inherent in so much of Disney family fare, it's difficult not to be enchanted by this simple but pleasant tale of the bond between humans and their pets, especially when it features three adorable animals as the main protagonists. Similar to the 1986 film, Milo & Otis, this is an adventure featuring loveable animals with "voices", allowing us to know just what they are thinking, giving them distinct personalities we can identify with. The gimmick is admittedly cheesy at first, although once the adventure begins, you probably won't even think about it. The animals are remarkably well-trained, especially when they are called into scenes of action and stunts that, even though we know no actual harm will befall them, are still somewhat exciting because we know live animals are performing them.
The only real downside to the film in terms of assessing the overall quality comes from the scenes involving the human actors. With lackluster acting and stiff drama, the momentum of the film as a whole drags whenever the Burnford family is featured in their plight to find their beloved pets. In theory, one would think that showing both factions of the family, the humans and the animals, trying desperately to find each other would result in a much more emotional and satisfying ending, but I think that showing the animals alone once the humans leave would have been a wiser choice. The human side of the family comes off as dysfunctional, and sometimes unlikable, but we still root for a reunion because we like the animals enough to want them to achieve a happiness in the end, even if it is with petulant doofuses (kidding!).
As mentioned previously, young kids will probably be enrapt in the adventure, not caring about the contrivances and clichés, enjoying the film for the loveable animals and sense of adventure. Adults may not be as into it as the kids, although dog and cat lovers should find it irresistible whenever the animals are on-screen. For everyone else, it's take-it-or-leave-it material, not really approaching greatness as far as family films go, but it is affectionately presented enough to deliver the heartwarming goods.
©2006 Vince Leo