April 12, 2004 12:00 PM

ANIMATED

With the voices of Roseanne Barr, Judi Dench, Jennifer Tilly, Cuba Gooding Jr.

Why would Disney make a cartoon about cows? An animated cow is an oxymoron. This is common knowledge to anyone who has merely glimpsed one from a car window. Cows are large, slow creatures, their brains absorbed with misty thoughts as they chew grass destined for their four stomachs. They’re an ideal portrait subject for Botero, the artist who specializes in the glassy-eyed and supersized. But for Walt & Co.? And coming after the adorable computer-animated fishies of Finding Nemo, will kids give a moo about it?

Disney’s traditional animators did the best they could. Range has visual snap: The landscapes of the Wild West stretch out in canvases of sharp, strong color, from sun-baked mesas to flooded plains. The story is whimsical yet meticulously plotted: Three cows (Barr, Dench and Tilly) run off to capture a cattle rustler and use the reward to keep the bank from foreclosing on their mistress’s farm. But the fact remains that a cow, even accessorized with a hat and Dench’s queenly British voice, isn’t much fun. At times, as the threesome bickered across the range, I got the feeling I was watching a bovine Golden Girls. (PG)

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