a colorful animated showcase that sacrifices a bit of narrative cogency for frenzied
jamborees, pratfalls and musical montage-fed poignancy. With neither a broad television advertising campaign nor
top-shelf star voice talent, Barnyard
will face a tough go of things in theaters. With the number of
computer-animated movies increasing seemingly fivefold, it takes more than
merely anthropomorphized critters to turn out audiences, and Barnyard — a simple, throwback story of
family, fraternity and learned responsibility — lacks the immediacy of a big,
bold narrative hook.
The movie has an enjoyably manic pace and satisfying message
for kids, but it’s doubtful that it can make substantial commercial inroads.
Opening on a comparable number of screens, Barnyard
could conceivably match or possibly best The
Ant Bully’s $8 million bow, benefiting from both the film’s strong
Nickelodeon brand marketing connection and potential audience runoff from Talladega Nights, but anything in the
range of co-producer Nickelodeon’s previously successful Rugrats films seems doubtful. With little chance to break out to a
wider constituency, Barnyard should
find better returns in ancillary markets, where the movie’s voluble charisma
will offer repeated charm for the under-10 set.
Ben the Cow (voiced by Sam Elliott) is the patriarch of the
barnyard, and for him the farm’s fence defines their space. He lovingly but
sternly enforces its borders, warning all against the dangers of attack from a
pack of marauding coyotes, who are led by the beady-eyed Dag (voiced by David
Koechner). Ben’s carefree son Otis (voiced by Kevin James), on the
other hand, happily indulges his state of arrested development, even though he
feels the first tinge of a care-giving impulse upon the arrival of pregnant cow
Daisy (voiced by Courteney Cox). When Ben is no longer able to lead the
animals, Otis must learn to heed his father’s mantra: “A strong man stands up
for himself, but a stronger man stands up for others.”
Though Oedekerk is best known for live-action comedies like Bruce Almighty and the Ace Ventura films, Barnyard is hardly his first foray into animation (he co-wrote Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius and created
and executive produced Santa Vs. The
Snowman), so the film doesn’t lack a cohesive style. While nitpickers will
question biographically correct details like the cow’s udders (girl cows are
differentiated by longer eyelashes and bows on their heads) and the consistency
in movement of quadrupeds on two legs, these elements are obviously of far less
concern to Oedekerk, who aims for a more emotive truth than a practical one.
Either you happily buy into the conceit — the joke of animals walking, talking
and even playing music when humans aren’t looking — or you don’t, and suffer a
animation is comparatively simple and clean when compared to the deeper frames
of Pixar’s efforts, with cows having big, boxy faces, and other animals being
marked by a similarly rounded straightforwardness. Lively, light and airy is
the focus, in both word and deed. As Otis, meanwhile, Kevin James’ playful
voice performance perfectly captures the blithe bounciness of a good-hearted
but self-involved adolescent.
Several fleeting bits are tossed in for adults, from a “Lord
of the Hoof” bit and animals enjoying a “mechanical man” ride to jokes about
lactose intolerance, but Barnyard is
by and large pitched to a younger crowd, and thus driven by Otis’ manic energy. In an inversion of the rural American ritual of “cow
tipping,” Otis and some of his wild friends seek revenge on a snotty boy
(voiced by Oedekerk) who tips a sleeping cow; they steal a car (!), sneak into
his bedroom and “tip” him out of bed, then flee in a sequence that turns into a
protracted police chase.
John Debney’s score, several songs by the North Mississippi
Allstars and the movie’s amped-up sound design all combine
to give the movie an aural propulsion tailor-made for kids.
several of the brief coyote attacks might be a bit intense for very small children,
the movie’s action is bloodless. (Paramount, PG, 87 mins.)