The film was released on February 3, 1993 and went on to gross over $40 million at the box office. The film was considered a success and a sequel was produced and released in 1996 titled Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco. The sequel featured the same animals and the same actors voicing the animals, except for Shadow, who was voiced by Ralph Waite in the sequel, because Don Ameche died shortly after playing his role in the first film.
The film was shot at various locations in Oregon. Four national forests were used in filming, these included Deschutes National Forest, Mount Hood National Forest, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, and Willamette National Forest. Cities and towns in Oregon that were used for filming included Portland, Oregon, Bend, Oregon, Joseph, Oregon, and Wallowa Oregon. Two other areas used for filming were the Columbia River Gorge and Eagle Cap Wilderness Area. This film was rated G by the Motion Picture Association of America.
Chance, an American Bulldog (played by Rattler and voiced by Michael J. Fox) and narrator of the film, opens the film by explaining that he is the pet of Jamie Burnford (Kevin Chevalia), but expresses no interest in his owner or having a "home". He shares his home with Shadow, (played by Ben and voiced by Don Ameche), an older Golden Retriever owned by Jamie's brother Peter Burnford (Benj Thall), and Sassy, a Himalayan cat] (played by Tiki and voiced by Sally Field), owned by their sister Hope (Veronica Lauren). Bob Seaver (Robert Hays) is marrying Laura Burnford (Kim Greist), joining the family. Shortly after the wedding, the family goes on a trip to San Francisco, leaving the pets at a ranch belonging to Kate (Jean Smart), a family friend. Kate later goes on a cattle drive, leaving the animals at the ranch to be looked after by one of her ranch hands.
However, the animals think they have been abandoned, and Shadow begins to worry about Peter, so he decides to go find them. Sassy and a reluctant Chance follow. They head into the rocky, mountainous wilderness, with Shadow leading by instinct. After a night spent in fear of the woodland noise, the group stops to catch breakfast at a river. Two black bears steal Chance's fish, and when Chance barks at them in protest, they suddenly leave the fish and climb a tree. Chance cockily assumes that he has scared them off, but then a huge brown bear appears, causing the group to quickly flee, also. At another river, Sassy refuses to swim across to follow the dogs, running along the river until she reaches a path of wood that seems to cross its breadth. Halfway across, it breaks apart and she falls in. Shadow jumps in to try to save her, but she goes over a waterfall. Shadow and Chance search for her along the bank, but as night falls, they mourn their loss and continue without her.
A half-drowned Sassy is rescued from the river by a man who lives in the woods, who nurses her back to health. Without Sassy, the dogs struggle to catch fish from the river. A mountain lion begins stalking them. Chance spots the mountain lion while he is fishing. He tells Shadow, but Shadow does not believe him until he sees it himself. The mountain lion follows them to the edge of a cliff. Chance, in a "just in case I don't make it, this is where my treasures are" statement, tells Shadow where he has buried everything at home. When Chance mentions that the remote control is buried under the seesaw, Shadow sees a balanced rock shaped like a seesaw, which gives him an idea. Shadow comes up with a plan to defeat the mountain lion. While Shadow acts as the bait, Chance waits until the mountain lion steps onto the end of the rock that's touching the ground, and jumps on the other end, sending the mountain lion flying over the cliff and into a river. The Mountain Lion retreats, filled with humiliation and irritation at its defeat. Sassy hears them barking in celebration and follows the sound to rejoin them.
The animals continue on their way, but Chance tries to befriend a porcupine, ending up with a load of quills from its tail in his muzzle. His friends are unable to pull them out, and as they journey on, they find a little girl named Molly (Mariah Milner), who is (for an unexplained reason) lost in the woods. Too loyal to ignore her, they stand guard over her during the night and keep her warm. In the morning, Shadow finds a rescue party, which includes Molly's parents, and leads them back to her. Molly's father thanks Shadow for saving his daughter's life.
The forest rangers with the party recognize the animals from a "missing pets" flyer they received and take them to the local animal shelter, which is dubbed by Chance as the "Pound". Because Chance has had previous experiences with being in a dog pound and a subject that Shadow never believed was an actual place, he panics and warns the others to run. Sassy gets away while he and Shadow are taken inside. As the medical staff remove the quills from Chance's muzzle, Sassy sneaks in and frees Shadow. Together they retrieve Chance, now quill-free, and escape the shelter, without realizing and have forgotten that their owners were on their way to get them and their ride back home.
The group is crossing through a train yard when Shadow falls through some old boards into a muddy pit, injuring his leg. With Sassy and Chance persuading him, he tries to climb out of the pit, but is unable to do so. Lying down, he says he is too old and that they should go on without him. Chance jumps into the pit to try to get him going, but Shadow refuses to move. He almost dies, much to Chance's sadness. Near dusk, the family is out in the backyard playing basketball, when Jamie claims to hear Chance barking. The others think he is imagining things, but moments later Chance comes running over a hill, happily tackling "his boy". Sassy follows to be reunited with Hope, and Peter hopefully looks for Shadow, but when he doesn't show up, Peter says he was too old and it was too far of a walk for him and turns to go back inside. As he does, Shadow, very much alive, is seen limping over the hill (how he able to get out of the muddy pit is unknown). Peter turns back around and shouts Shadow's name as the two run towards each other.
As everyone watches, Chance narrates how it was Shadow's belief that brought them home and how the years seemed to lift off of him, making him a puppy again after being reunited with his best friend. While everyone goes inside, Chance stays behind for a moment, ending his narration by saying he had a family and for the first time in his life, he was really home before happily running into the house.
- Don Ameche as the voice of Shadow
- Michael J. Fox as the voice of Chance
- Sally Field as the voice of Sassy
- Robert Hays as Bob Seaver
- Kim Greist as Laura Burnford-Seaver
- Benj Thall as Peter Burnford-Seaver
- Veronica Lauren as Hope Burnford-Seaver
- Kevin Chevalia as Jamie Burnford-Seaver
- William Edward Phipps as Quentin
- Gary Taylor as Frank
- Jean Smart as Kate
- David McDonough as Foote
- Mark L. Taylor as Kirkwood
- Frank Welker as Birdzilla and Mountain Lion
The film holds an 87% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on 23 reviews.
A number of scenes cut from the movie were included in TV broadcasts:
- Peter washing Chance with a hose after Chance eats the wedding cake.
- Kate taking the pets on a car ride.
- Bob being invited to a barbecue, only for the kids to remind him that the barbecue falls on the day he had promised to take them to visit their pets.
- Kate finding the note she had written Frank that he had not seen, and then calling the pound to know if the pets are found before she realizes they're heading for home (revealed to be Fresno).
- Sassy observes the man at the river playing the saxophone at night.
- The man at the river bringing his goat into his house while he leaves.
- Before crossing the tracks, the pets search for food in the dumpster but found nothing.
- The climax and ending of the film were briefly referenced in the live-action remake for 101 Dalmatians.
- Miracle, Leica, Spirit, Steggy, Adoration, Steeple and Droopy screech for Sassy.