Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey

Image via Amazon.com

The ballots are in and the votes have been tabulated. It's official: children love talking animals. There's just something special about anthropomorphic house pets that really drives them wild. And who can blame them? They're undeniably adorable.

The Disney Corporation is well-aware of this fact and has been milking it since its humble steamboat-driving mouse beginnings. Disney's 1993 remake of its own 1963 movie (The Incredible Journey) was no exception. Based on the novel of the same name by Sheila Burnford, the 1963 version featured our furry friends sporting the somewhat less-appealing monikers assigned to them by Burnford: Bodger, Luath, and Tao. Disney must have recognized that the ever-shortening attention spans of 90s children would likely oppose these unfamiliar names and thus replaced them with the snappier Shadow, Chance, and Sassy.

Poster from the original 1963 film. Image via movieposter.com


People of all ages seem to have an uncharacteristic response of sympathy to animals in movies. We could all carelessly watch hundreds of people getting blown to bits in some form of super-advanced special effect explosion and never bat an eye or miss a beat on the popcorn-gobbling. Portray a dog in any form of mild discomfort, on the other hand, and the crowd will weep uncontrollably.

Homeward Bound was no exception. It had a distinctly heartstring-tugging cuteness that made us collectively "awww" over our motley crew of four-legged protagonists. We willingly oblige to completely abandon our usual veneer of disbelief and briefly believe that these animals are feeling what the voice actors claim. It was both easy and enjoyable to get caught up in the magic of the film and root for these pets the whole way through.

The movie begins with a voiceover by Chance, describing his hard-luck life: abandoned, sleeping on the streets, and scavenging in garbage cans. We learn that eventually, this lifestyle led to his imprisonment. You sort of feel bad for this voice, until the camera pans over the voice's source: a hearty American Bulldog. Surprise! Chance is a dog! I never would have guessed it from all of those movie posters and cinematic previews. That voice-over had me fooled. Then again, I was eight, so I'm willing to legitimately plead ignorance.

Chance (voiced by Michael J. Fox) was adopted by a loving family who already has two pets in tow: Sassy the Himalayan cat (Sally Fields) and Shadow the golden retriever (Don Ameche). Chance describes the family's children as belonging to Sassy and Shadow respectively, cementing our understanding of the film's pet-centric view. I spent much of the opening scenes deliberating over why little girl Hope had chosen to name her beloved cat after a teen magazine.



Shadow and Sassy are well-behaved, but Chance is somewhat of a rebel and a bit rough around the edges. The family leaves the pets under the care of a neighbor as they make their exit to San Francisco. They say their goodbyes and are off on their happy, petless way. The pets aren't about to stand for this sort of abadonment, though. Shadow immediately begins to worry about his owner, and convinces the whole gang that they should hightail it it out of there and go find their now-absent human companions.



Here's where our promised Incredible Journey begins. Shadow, Chance, and Sassy make their way into the wide wilderness, embarking on a scenic trip through a stretch of Pacific Northwestern national forest. They navigate their wild, unfamiliar surroundings and weather the less-than-hospitable outdoor conditions. They continue to do adorable animal things, like scoop for fish in the river and cower in the presence of truly terrifying grizzly bears. Really, cute stuff. Here's where I learned some of my most valued childhood lessons, namely that "Cats rule and dogs drool." Or at least it provided me with a mantra of self-reassurance when my parents brought me a cat in lieu of the dog I begged for.

The movie takes a tear-jerking turn when our pal Sassy is swept away by the river and thrust into the pounding falls. Even as a child, this scene made me cry. Shadow and Chance, how could you? You just let your prissy feline friend be smushed by 10,000 pounds of beating water. For shame. Luckily, Sassy is rescued by some class of forest ranger and is quickly nursed back to pre-waterfalling health. She hears her friends barking and scurries off to meet them. Sure, this chance encounter is unlikely, but we're talking about a gang of domesticated animals off on a wilderness adventure. We can concede the smaller improbable situations when we accept the larger one.

As you can imagine, innumerable hilarious hijinks ensue, such as the see-saw style catapulting of a rogue mountain lion. Pure wildlife comedy gold, I tell you. But then, the unthinkable: Chance is attacked by a pesky porcupine. I will forever remember the sage Shadow instructing him, "Whatever you do, don't lick yourself!" Despite being all quilly, Chance soldiers on and the group continues on their way. They somehow manage to rescue a lost child, but in the midst of the celebratory reunion are sent to an animal shelter.

Image via EW.com

Long (incredible, really) story short, Sassy escapes and frees her canine companions. Just when everything seems to be looking up, Shadow falls into a pit. Despite valiant rescue efforts, Shadow is resigned and asks the others to go on without him. By this point, of course, the whole audience is sniffling. A dog dying on film is like onion-chopping for moviegoers: you can pretend all you want that it doesn't effect you, but your eyes are going to water uncontrollably whether you like it or not.

The pets' family is back home and very down about the loss of their furry friends. Then suddenly, like magic, they hear a bark in the distance. Chance come rollicking in, followed by littleSassy. The oldest son is dejected, realizing his dog isn't coming home. In a moment of admittedly corny by nonetheless heartwarming movie magic, Shadow slowly limps over the hill and is reunited with his beloved owner. All is well in the world.

What can I say? I'm a sucker for happy endings. It just goes to show you: if you really love your animals, you'll leave them with irresponsible neighbors with questionable pet-sitting credentials, the pets will escape and embark on a quest into the abyss, they'll encounter hilarious and dangerous obstacles, and will then come prancing on back to you full of wisdom and experience.

At least that's the way I understood it.

23 comments:

Al said...

This movie always scared me. i have no idea why lol... but it always just had a really scary feeling....

butterflyblob said...

This was one of my favorite movies as a kid. I always cried when Shadow fell in the well.

I still love talking animal movies.

Katie said...

I saw this movie in the theater 4 times I loved it so much! The only movie I loved more as a child was The Mighty Ducks.

Jaime said...

I loved that movie. Until my little brother wanted to watch it every day. Ten times a day.

I never wished so hard for a VCR to eat a tape as I did with that one.

And Jumanji.

BZ said...

I am proud to say I own this on VHS...and that I think I bought it last year, haha

OhMyLaughter said...

Loved this movie. Had a hatred for the lady "Kate" who was supposed to be taking care of the animals...always felt it was her fault all the bad things happened to them...

My dad told me "it wasn't her fault." As a child I completely blamed her for going out of town.

teasinglydiverse said...

I loved this movie...but it makes me cry! I don't think I could watch it again without crying..I'm a total sap and can't take the sad, hurt, old little animals!
I will say, though, the sequel was horrible...

Farah said...

I love this movie...you are def right about children loving talking animals!

mollymouse said...

LOVE this movie! Definitely wore out the VHS tape... good memories!

Cee said...

I think I need to go over to my parent's house now and watch this on VHS...I LOVED this movie. Shadow falling into the pit then catching up in the end and coming home is movie magic.

My sister and I loved this movie so much my mom made us watch the orginal...yea the animals don't talk in it so it is pretty lame.

Amber (Girl with the red hair) said...

I freaking LOVED this show as a kid. Watched it over and over again AND I've ALWAYS wanted a golden retriever since seeing this show!

One day I will get one!!!

LiLu said...

Watery eyes? Try I BAWLED LIKE A TWO YEAR OLD WITH A BOO BOO ON MY KNEE.

Jessica said...

First of all, I just found you on 20SB.com and I love your blog!

I think I watched Homeward Bound once a week for at least 4 years of my life.

lovelila said...

I was JUST talking about this movie not too long ago! I need to rent it or something...

smile steady said...

This is one that I watched at least once a day for a while. I actually saw it again a couple of weeks ago, and yes, I cried.

Meghan said...

Your blog is amazing.First time I saw it I sobbed. Oh Sassy, she's so brave.

Just Playing Pretend said...

I like my pets wise and experienced. I think I'm gonna just chuck Stinson into an empty field right now. He'll come home to me. I'm sure of it.

Brandi said...

Homeward Bound was one of my favorite movies.

em said...

I did NOT like this movie because it took too freaking long for them to get home, and I am an impatient person. After a while, I just didn't want them to get home anymore and I was internally pushing for them to adapt to their surroundings. I watched Bolt the other day and it reminded me of this movie.

Kristin said...

Yessssssssssss, love both of them! I wanted to name our kid Chance. The hubs vetoed it.

Cory said...

@OhMyLaughter I also hated the pet-sitter, and I was always mad when she let the pets escape.

Also, you're completely right about animal-movies making people cry. I rarely cry during movies (I can count on one hand the number of times it's happened), but animal movies always get me. Notable movies where this has happened include both Homeward Bound movies, Milo and Otis (it kills me when Milo, Otis, and their families begin the journey home), and, to a greater extent, Marley & Me (I cried much more during this movie than I have EVER cried during a movie...seriously, it was heartbreaking). I don't what that says about people when they feel more emotionally connected to animals than humans.

The World of Lurlene Mcdaniel said...

Man i loved that movie growing up. Loved don ameche's performance in that movie.

r.i.p. don ameche. i miss you.

steviemom said...

Even though it was undeniably corny, I liked this movie a lot. My mom used to hate Chance cause he was such a destructive bad dog. :)

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