Wednesday, June 8, 2016

An Incredible Journey

Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey
Director: Duwayne Dunham
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Sally Field, Don Ameche, Jean Smart
Released: February 12, 1993

The last time I saw this movie was when it was released in theaters. I don't particularly remember seeing this in the theater, but I must have. I was a kid when it came out and it is a kids' movie, plus I had a cat that looked like the cat in this movie. Or maybe I saw it in school or at a friend's house. Who knows? All I know is I did see it when I was a kid! I know I saw it because I remembered that all the animals (SPOILER ALERT!) make it home. I wish I remembered how I reacted to this when I first saw it, because watching it this time, I'm surprised I didn't have any memories of being traumatized by this movie! I mean, I wasn't TOO traumatized watching it this time because I knew the animals made it home safely, but the first time I saw this? I didn't know. Or maybe I did since it was a Disney movie and that meant it would have a happy ending? 

If you were a kid in the early '90s (weren't the '90s the best?), chances are, you've seen this movie. I never knew (until now) that this movie is based on a book called The Incredible Journey that was published in 1961 by Sheila Burnford. In fact, Burnford is the last name of the mother and her two kids in this film. There was a movie of the same name that came out in 1963, so I guess you can say this is a remake. But this is the one I'm most familiar with as I grew up with it. 

We start the movie with meeting the family. Okay, let's see if I can get this straight: Laura is the mother to Peter and Hope. She is getting married to Bob, who is the father to Jamie. Each kid has their own pet. Chance, an American bulldog (voiced by Michael J. Fox), belongs to Jamie, the youngest of the kids. Sassy, the Himalayan cat (I HAD A HIMALAYAN CAT!!!) (voiced by Sally Field), belongs to Hope. And Shadow, the old and reliable Golden Retriever (voiced by Don Ameche) belongs to Peter, the oldest. Peter and Shadow look alike as they have the exact same hair color! Wikipedia says that Jamie is the woman's biological son, but I got the sense he's the guy's son. I have also heard that he is the biological son of both of them and they are getting married, like, five years after the fact. Who the hell knows? 

The three animals can talk to each other, but the humans can't hear them because that would just be silly! One thing I like about this movie is they don't use weird and creepy CGI to move the animals' mouths when they're talking. It's possible they didn't have the technology to do that back then, and thank God! I know of movies that use real animals and when they talk, they look so weird and unnatural (like Cats and Dogs). You know they filmed the animals first, then the actors came in and did the voice overs and you can tell they had to improvise a few times and it resulted in some funny moments.

In the first act of the movie, we learn that Chance is very rambunctious and is always getting in trouble. Sassy finds him very tiring and her motto is, "Dogs drool and cats rule." (My cat would agree with her, ha!) And Shadow is my favorite because he's the wise old leader, although he does some pretty bone-headed stuff in the movie. Well, he is probably my favorite because I love Don Ameche. He was the perfect person to voice Shadow. If I could have any famous grandfather, I would want it to be Don Ameche. Yes, I know he's no longer with us. He died at the end of 1993 and he was 85 so he was quite old when he did this movie. 

The family is moving to San Francisco for a little while for Bob's job (never sure how long they're there), but they must leave the animals with a family friend, Kate (Jean Smart), who lives on a ranch, so she has a bigger open space for the animals to run around and play. Since they'll be living in an apartment, there won't be any room for the animals. Now I can understand leaving the two dogs on the ranch, but they couldn't bring the cat? Although this would probably result in a fight amongst the siblings. 

One thing that doesn't make sense in this movie is that while the animals can communicate with each other and understand what the others are saying, they don't understand when the humans talk to them. Except for simple commands like, "Stay". They don't understand that their stay on the ranch is only temporary and that their owners will be back to get them, and at the very least, come back to visit them every weekend until they move back to their house. When Kate has to go on a cattle drive about a week after the animals have been there, Shadow decides that he's going to cross the entire state of California (okay, I'm not entirely sure how long this journey took) to find his way back to Peter and the others and Sassy and Chance join him. Okay, now, these animals aren't the brightest bulbs. You think they would know their owners are coming back for them, but they seem to think they've been abandoned or forgotten or something. Shadow knows that Peter would never abandon him and thinks he may be in trouble and may need him. So they decide the only reasonable and rational thing to do is to embark on an incredible dangerous journey. If this happened in real life, there is no way these animals would survive. But, luckily, this is a Disney movie.

By the time Kate's neighbor comes over to feed the animals, he doesn't see them and assumes that she must have taken them with her on the cattle drive. He tells her this when she gets back and she panics and calls the family and the park service to ask them to keep an eye out for the animals. The guy pretty much tells her that these animals have no chance of surviving in the wilderness. I know exactly how those kids felt when they were told their pets were lost. When I was a freshman in college, my mom came to visit me with some bad news: she told me my cat, McKenzie (the Himalayan), had gotten out of the house and had been missing for five days! She tells me this right after she buys me lunch and of course I can't eat because I start crying! It was one of the worst days of my life...this was actually even worse than the day Mac died several years later because at least I was prepared for that. Later that evening, after my mom had gone, my dad called me and told me that Mac had come back! You don't know how happy I was. Okay, my story doesn't sound as dramatic as this movie where the animals are lost for at least a week (again, not sure about the timeline with this movie) and my cat wasn't lost in the wilderness...not like these animals were.

The three pets are able to survive by having Sassy catch fish for them. There's a weird side story where she's obsessed with her weight and only wants to eat "low fat" things. Um, she's a f***ing cat; since when has a cat ever cared about its weight? NEVER, that's when. My cat is always hungry and I will hear it from him if I'm late feeding him! Cats love to eat and the more food they have, the happier they are. I found that storyline to be a little sexist since she was the only female animal and of course the female animal is obsessed with her stupid! I did laugh when they're first at the ranch and Kate feeds them and when she put food in Sassy's bowl; Chance just gobbles it up. When I brought Mac to my parents' house and my brother brought his dog, Maggie, Maggie would always eat from Mac's bowl and it would freak my brother out that his dog was eating cat food!

Chance nearly has a run in with a bear and the animals run away. This won't be their first run in with a wild animal. They have to cross a stream, but Sassy, being a cat, doesn't want to get wet and decides to find a better space to cross. She finds some rocks close enough she can leap over to get to the other side, but slips into the rapids and proceeds to go down a waterfall and when Shadow and Chance run down to where she is, they don't see her and presume she is dead. The whole thing is quite traumatizing! It's obvious it's a fake cat that goes over the waterfall (well, duh) and when there's a wide shot of a cat in the rapids, but I heard that when they used a real cat in the water for the close-ups, they filmed it in a small pool. I know cats hate water, so I feel so bad for that cat! I'm guessing they used several cats to be Sassy, so I at least hope they found one of those rare cats that like water (though this cat doesn't look too happy and I don't think it's acting!), or else I would feel so bad for the poor thing!

Shadow and Chance are sad for a few seconds, then move on. The audience (which is probably mostly full of children, mind you) is also left thinking Sassy has died because we don't see that she is actually alive for quite a few more scenes. A man who has a cabin in the woods (hmmm, sounds suspicious!) is fishing and sees Sassy's limp body near the water and picks her up. It is only AFTER she stirs that he exclaims, "You're alive!" Okay, why would you pick up an animal if you thought it was dead? I'm telling you, this guy is a little weird. He takes her back to her cabin where he gives her food and water and dries and brushes her coat. Feeling better, Sassy is able to rejoin Shadow and Chance when she hears them barking and there's a happy reunion between the three animals.

Good thing Sassy wasn't around when the mountain lion was after the two dogs or else they would have been embarrassed about being scared of a cat and she would have never let them hear the end of it. In order to get rid of the mountain lion, they put a plank over a rock, like a teeter totter, and when the mountain lion is on one end of the plank, Chance's job is to jump on the other end, sending the mountain lion flying into the air and over a cliff into a river. The whole thing is so hilarious and ridiculous because it's an obvious large stuffed animal that goes flying through the air.

Meanwhile, back with the humans, the dad/stepdad feels horrible and is putting up fliers to post around the city for any information about their lost pets. There is a stroke of good luck when they get a call saying the animals have been found. What happened is that the animals find a little girl who is lost in the woods and stay with her overnight (this girl, who must have been no older than six or seven was spending the night in the woods; her parents must have been so terrified!). The next morning, the animals hear a search party calling for the little girl and Shadow goes to alert them. Chance doesn't want him to alert them (then how is the little girl going to be rescued, duh?) because they will only take them to the pound and as a dog who came from the pound, he never wants to go back there again. The people in the search party recognize the animals and have them taken to an animal shelter and the Burnford family is called with the good news.

Except, it isn't exactly good news because moments before the Burnfords arrive, the animals have escaped! Stupid animals! Shadow even says that he has a feeling they should go back, but they keep trudging on. OMG, can you imagine if you were one of those kids and you were about to be reunited with your lost pet only to find out that they ran away? I would be inconsolable!

But, finally, the animals have crossed into the city limits and they are almost home (again, no idea who much time has passed since they escaped from the animal shelter). They are crossing some railroad tracks and Shadow falls into a deep pit covered by wooden planks. He is too old and too tired to get out and tells the others to go on without him. Chance tells them they aren't leaving without him, but Shadow still won't budge. We don't see the outcome of what happens as we next get a scene of the Burnford family back at their house. They're all outside when they hear a familiar bark! Why, that sounds like Chance...but it can't be! But here comes Chance running over the hill and everyone is so happy! And moments later here comes Sassy trotting over the hill and everyone is so happy! And then everyone is looking hopefully at the hill waiting for Shadow to come...but nothing. We wait some more...and nothing. Oh, if only Chance and Sassy could talk to tell them if Shadow was behind them or not! Peter looks so sad and says that his dog was old and probably didn't make it. He turns around, dejected, to head back in the house. And then...finally....we see Shadow coming over the hill. Peter's parents and siblings see this before he does and they all gasp and he turns around and sees his dog is still alive and smiles and breaks into a run to hug Shadow....OMG....cue the tears....CUE THE TEARS! This entire scene makes me cry, but, OMG, this moment! Always gets to me!

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