By Jim Fanning
Take one cat and two dogs who comically converse among themselves in human voices, separate them from their humans, and send them off on a perilous quest through the Sierra Nevadas to find their family, and you have Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. This Disney hit, the popularity of which inspired a sequel in Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco (1996), is a remake of Walt Disney’s classic 1963 film The Incredible Journey. Released on February 12, 1993, this live-action comedy-adventure celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, so to fete the film and its two fidos, Shadow and Chance, and their feline friend, Sassy, here are some fascinating facts about this beloved Disney animal adventure.
1. The Incredible Journey Began with a Book… and a Movie
The story of Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey starts with The Incredible Journey, a top-selling book by Sheila Burnford. The author based her novel about the unstoppable animal trio on her own pets. Her three animals were her constant companions in England during World War II, and the pets were themselves inseparable. “They were closer than any other dog and cat relationship I have ever seen,” she said of her English Bull Terrier and Siamese cat. “Sleeping in the same basket, hunting and playing together, they made a lawless pair.” Later, a young Labrador was added to the mix, and the pup guarded the older dog when the Bull Terrier’s eyesight began to fail. It was this remarkable animal-kingdom kinship that inspired the author to write The Incredible Journey. Less than a year after its publication in 1960, the book became an international bestseller. Walt Disney immediately saw that this extraordinary story would make a compelling film. Released in 1963, The Incredible Journey became an iconic Disney animal film.
2. Two Oscar® Winners Team Up
One of the primary differences between the original film and Homeward Bound is that the animals talk. Since audibly revealing the thoughts of the pets is integral to the story, the casting of the actors who could convey personality with their voices alone was crucial. Consequently, the Homeward Bound filmmakers cast Academy Award®-caliber talent. Two-time Oscar® winner (For Best Actress in Norma Rae (1979) and Places in the Heart (1984)), Sally Field performs the voice of Sassy, the sophisticated Himalayan feline. As for the voice of Shadow, Don Ameche was signed to vocalize the wise Golden Retriever. A movie star from Hollywood’s golden era, Ameche experienced a popularity resurgence when he won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for Cocoon (1985). Homeward Bound marked a return to Disney for Don as he had starred in the popular comedy The Boatniks (1970).
3. Fox Voices Dog
When Emmy Award-winning TV and movie star Michael J. Fox voiced Milo Thatch in Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), animator John Pomeroy noted, “He was a virtuoso at the microphone, and he understood the situation and would improve it. He also improvised emotional nuances that weren’t in the script and made the character very sympathetic.” When Fox worked on Homeward Bound a few years earlier, he brought that same vocal skill to performing the voice of the enthusiastic American Bulldog pup, Chance.
4. The Animal Actors of Homeward Bound
Each of the animal actors portraying the three four-footed leads worked for up to seven weeks before shooting even began. Each responded to voice and sound commands, and each was rewarded for its performance not with movie-star perks, but with liver treats. The heart of Homeward Bound is of course the unusual bond between the three, which meant normal canine and feline conflict had to be dealt with. “There are certain restrictions to working with dogs and cats together,” said head dog trainer Gary “Sam” Vaughn. “But there are rewards, too. By nature, they don’t get along. But our animals spent so much time together that they have become very close. These animals developed affections for each other and the actors that come through on screen.” Added veteran animal coordinator and trainer Joe Camp, “This is the first time where you have animals, not just performing a behavior, but actually their behaviors interacted between each other. They’re in a sense communicating with their partner.”
5. Beauties and the Beasts
Homeward Bound has quite a Disney animation pedigree. Along with Donald W. Ernst, co-producer of Aladdin (1992), Kirk Wise, co-director of Beauty and the Beast (1991), served as executive producer. In that capacity, Wise supervised the writing and recording of the animals’ dialogue and was involved in casting the voice talents. Screenwriter Linda Woolverton came to Homeward Bound after penning the screenplay for Beauty and the Beast, while co-screenwriter Caroline Thompson also wrote Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, released in 1993, the same year as Homeward Bound.
6. Stand-In Pets and Supporting Players
Ben, Rattler, and Tiki, the main animals portraying Shadow, Chance, and Sassy, receive star billing in the film, but, in reality, Chance and Shadow were each played by four dogs, while Sassy was played by 10 cats. The additional animals were brought in to perform specialty actions or simply to give the lead animal performers a break. Other animals in the Homeward Bound cast include a mountain lion, an owl, black bears, a porcupine, and a skunk.
7. Chance, Sassy and Shadow’s Human Family
The first Incredible Journey film adaptation focused primarily on the animals’ journey, but this later version was expanded to examine the special bond between a child and his pet, especially as exemplified by Peter (Benj Thall) and his relationship with Shadow. “There is a magic between children and animals that adults can’t touch,” observed co-producer Mack Bing. “This magic was evident on and off screen. There’s an almost visible chemistry in that special relationship that makes this film work.” Producer Jeffrey Chernov added, “To me, the most important part of this movie is about family. The human characters don’t start out as a solid family, but they grow into one.” The animals’ family is named Burnford in honor of the original book’s author.
8. Incredible Journey, Incredible Scenery
Though the original book and movie took place in Ontario, Canada, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey is set in California as the pets’ trek takes them through the wilds of the Sierras. In reality the movie was filmed in Oregon. “Oregon is a popular site for filmmaking because of its varied topography,” location manager Mark C. Hughes said. ”In this film, we used parts of downtown Portland to substitute for San Francisco; eastern Oregon to serve as Bishop, California, and the Eagle Cap Wilderness area, which bears a striking resemblance to the Sierra Nevadas.” Filming took place from August through October 1991. Midway through the project, the film crew packed their cameras and equipment on mules and horses and rode more than 15 miles of protected wilderness areas into the Eagle Cap area in the Wallow Mountains for three days of filming in the forest. “My job was almost made easier by Mother Nature,” said production designer Roger Cain. “You look around to decide what needs to be done to the surroundings and realize that there’s no way you can improve on the grandeur of the scenery. I think that the audience will feel awed by how remote a journey these animals are on.”