‘Barnyard’ raises some disturbing questions about animated animals
“Barnyard: The Original Party Animals” may be the first animated flick this year that left me scratching my head and saying, “What?”
Oh, sure, it means well and there is a message that is a positive one, about strength in numbers and friendships formed, but whoa – the journey to that end will have your kids asking some questions! And, I assume there will be plenty of kids, in part because this is an animated flick, and also because it’s produced by the kid-friendly network known as Nickelodeon.
Ever wonder what farm animals do when humans aren’t looking? No? Well, I do, and it isn’t pretty! Fellow comic Kevin James (from TV’s “King of Queens”) voices Otis, a cow who is, uh, male, which is different for a bovine. Then there are the bulls with udders? They’re also centrally located, so they look more like giant warts than anything that would serve a functional need. I wonder how many of the younger kids will be asking their parents that question. And then there’s the pregnant girlfriend cow! I needed a morning-after pill after digesting that visual. Written and directed by onetime stand-up comic Steve Oedekerk, “Barnyard” is a gender-bender for the animal kingdom and then some. Animals that are confused?
It becomes quite clear, though, that one of the messages is accepting those who are “different” and how they can contribute to society. In most animated flicks there seems to be good vs. evil, and this is no different. This means that there is a group that doesn’t like to follow the program: coyotes. In fact, there are some scenes that may be a little too intense for the tykes. We’re talking life-and-death issues that you as a parent will have to address. All this begs the simple question: Who is the target audience for this movie, anyway? If it’s for adults, there are some intelligent moments and funny scenes, but then there are plenty of kid moments, too.
Ben (voiced by Sam Elliott) is the main cow (also a male – what?) who has been the leader and the voice of reason for years for this unusual fraternity of animals. He was hoping that his son, Otis, would follow suit, but Otis doesn’t appear to have the leadership ability required for such a moooooving experience. Otis is a goofy cow who would rather clown around, walking like a human when humans are not looking and then making fun of that species to garner laughter from his fellow barnyard pals.
They can talk, swim and do pretty much what their human counterparts can do. But, as previously mentioned, all of that changes when the coyotes enter the picture. When tragedy ensues, the once-complacent farm animals are filled with fear, and Otis learns to grow up fast.
He gets a taste of taking control when a nasty human kid thinks it is funny to tip a cow. In one hysterical scene, Otis and his friends get back at the annoying boy, and soon discovers that cows have opposable thumbs (at least this one does), and can easily tip bratty kids over, too. In time, as expected, he learns to grow up and accept certain responsibilities, becoming a “man” (or close to one – having udders, I mean) where his true calling awaits.
If part of this sounds reminiscent of “The Lion King,” you are correct, sir (or madam). In fact, a lot of the plot here seems to have borrowed from that classic movie.
Otis is joined by a cast of fine extras who lend their talents to their respective animal parts, including his girlfriend, Daisy (Courteney Cox), the wise and patient mule, Miles (Danny Glover), and Dasiy’s best friend, Bessy (Wanda Sykes). Other voices include Andie MacDowell, Maurice LaMarche and Improv comic regular Maria Bamford.
Creator Steve Oedekerk is very good with stories, and in fact was the driving force behind another animated picture, “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.” That movie was both entertaining and had a nice family tone to it. Although I did like the animation here (which is more impressive during the night scenes), maybe having party animals gets old too fast … and how many times can you see animals trying to mimic humans and be cutesy? Maybe the next animated animal feature will be about those in the barn who took a vow of silence. They can use subtitles to show what each animal is thinking and leave it at that.
– Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv comedy club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout northern California and Nevada, including the Sirius Radio Network every Sunday evening. He hosts “Howie’s Morning Rush” on Tahoe’s KRLT radio and you can see his film reviews every Friday morning on KOLO ABC TV Channel 8.
Keepin’ it Reel
Now playing: “Barnyard: The Original Party Animals”
Starring: Kevin James, Maria Bamford, S. Scott Bullock, Paul Butcher, Megan Cavanagh, Cam Clarke, Courteney Cox, John Di Maggio, Earthquake, Sam Elliott, Jeffrey Garcia, Danny Glover, Tino Insana, Dom Irrera, David Koechner, Maurice LaMarche, Madeline Lovejoy, Andie MacDowell, Steve Oedekerk, Rob Paulsen, Zoë Raye, Wanda Sykes and Jill Talley
Directed by: Steve Oedekerk
Rated: PG for some mild peril and rude humor
Length: 90 minutes
Howie gives it: 2.5 out of 5 bagels