Barnyard: The Original Party Animals (2006) / Animation-Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG for some violence and rude humor
Running Time: 90 min.

Cast (voices): Kevin James, Sam Elliott, Courteney Cox, Danny Glover, David Koechner, Wanda Sykes, Andie MacDowell, Dom Irrera, Earthquake, Steve Oedekerk
Director: Steve Oedekerk
Screenplay: Steve Oedekerk
Review published August 8, 2006

Do you ever get the feeling that you're paying money to see the same movie over and over? 

Barnyard is yet another computer animated comedy featuring anthropomorphic animals of different varieties goofing around and learning valuable life lessons while making loud noises and spazzing out in over-caffeinated fashion to give the semblance of humor without actually having to deliver anything truly funny.  It's gotten to the point where I actually can't remember which characters belong to which movie, which movie featured which plot, and which plot featured which moral. 

Most of the film is set in a barnyard, of course, where we find all of the usual barnyard animals happily living and partying together in enjoyable fashion, with the only interruptions in their festivities coming from the occasional coyote attacks.  The only thing they must do in order to keep their joyous lifestyle going is to make sure that the humans around them never see them as anything other than docile barnyard creatures.  To keep the animals safe, chief cow Ben (voices by Sam Elliott, Thank You for Smoking) applies his muscle to the coyotes whenever they come to take another fellow barnyard friend away.  Ben's son Otis (Kevin James, Hitch) doesn't understand his father's motivation for caring so much, as he is content to enjoy a life of living for the moment, without a care in the world.  After a tragedy occurs, Otis is faced with the reality of being the leader of the barnyard community, and he's not sure he can handle the responsibility.

Although this may not be the worst of these sorts of movies, my low grade is probably a result of cumulative tedium induced by having to sit through far too many movies just like it just in the last year alone.  Perhaps a young child won't care that he or she is seeing a wholly derivative formula animated kid flick, but for most adults in the audience, this is the cinematic equivalent of hammering an ice pick into your cranium, with the throbbing pain not ceasing until the final credits release you from cutesy, oversaturated sensory stimulation.

One big problem is the jarring shifts in tone that occur throughout the film, one moment seeming like it couldn't possibly be anything more than a fun time, and then in another, there's a dark tone that feels completely out of place, cribbed primarily from Disney's The Lion King in its serious overtones.  Then it shifts right back into irreverent humor and sight gags, as if we're not even supposed to take any of the seriousness seriously. 

I won't be the first to point this out, but male cows just don't work for me either.  I don't mean bulls, I mean male cows.  Seeing a giant cow with a pink-tinted udder and Sam Elliott's deep voice is disconcerting to say the least, and I wonder what the point of it was.  Is it supposed to be funny?  It's annoying and distracting, but "annoying and distracting" is about the only mode writer-director Steve Oedekerk (Kung Pow, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls) seems to know throughout this entire film (and indeed his entire career).

If I were going to recommend this film to anyone it might be to young children that never tire of sitting transfixed on the screen whenever colorful and energetic cartoon characters are on display.  Unfortunately, given the moments of darkness within the film, I can't even do that, as one scene in particular is a bit too dark for some younger kids to handle.  Sure, the same event occurs in the aforementioned The Lion King, but at least that film had real themes and a mature build-up, things that Oedekerk is unable to get a handle on properly. Instead, he employs a "kitchen sink" approach to this film that tries to capture some of the moments and ideas that work in other recent animated fare.  This also means that whatever Oedekerk throws at us, we've seen before in more original films -- except for the male cows, of course.

I would rather have seen Barnyard as an animated short, much in the vein of Oedekerk's popular "Thumb" series, with animals doing their best to hide their jocularity and mirth-making from the unsuspecting eyes of humans.  In smaller doses, this would have been much easier to endure.  At 90 minutes, the lack of a plot, the derivative coming-of-age story, and the redundant gags wear thin mighty quickly, making this a difficult experience for people in the audience that have already seen the dozen or so animated comedies of a similar nature to come out in 2006 alone.

If you're off-put by the emasculating sight of male cows with udders, don't worry.  For almost 90 minutes, you'll still see plenty of bull.  Steer clear.

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo