BarnyardReviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 08/03/06 22:28:47
So yes, the new CGI cartoon “Barnyard” has made the embarrassing mistake of giving very noticeable udders to all of its male bovines. Much has already been made of this ghastly mistake, although as of this writing, nobody at either Paramount or Nickelodeon has offered an explanation. Did nobody notice? Did nobody think we’d notice? Was it too expensive to fix once the error was detected?Well, now, having finally seen the film, it turns out the only worthy answer to this controversy is a mere two words: who cares? Forget the sexual confusion of the he-cows that populate the film; the real problem is that “Barnyard” is just a lousy, lousy movie.
The by-the-numbers story finds a (sigh) cow named Otis (voiced by Kevin James) refusing to settle down into a more responsible role as set forth by his father, a (sigh) cow named Ben (Sam Elliott) who keeps a watchful eye over the barnyard, protecting all the animals within from coyote attacks. Otis would rather party, but wouldn’t you know it, a coyote attack takes Ben out of the picture and leaves Otis suddenly in charge. He’ll have to learn to take to heart all those inspirational one-liners his father told him in an attempt to make him a better he-cow.
You don’t really get the idea that anybody’s remotely trying with this one. Not only is the story as generic as they come, but the screenplay (from Steve Oedekerk, who also directed) doesn’t even manage to get all the key clichés right. Early on, when we hear Ben tell Otis how “a strong man stands up for himself, a stronger man stands up for others,” we quickly realize that this will be the valuable lesson Otis will learn. And sure enough, not only does he learn it just in time for the climactic showdown with the coyotes, but he’s good enough to repeat the line one more time for the kids to remember. Except that line doesn’t really fit with where we are in the story. Otis should have said the line in an earlier scene, when he’s leaving the barnyard to rescue the kidnapped chickens (instead of running away, the obligatory inner conflict that such a formulaic kiddie movie plotline requires to be presented as a threat overcome by a smarter decision on the part of the main character), not here, where he’s been knocked down by some bad guys and then stands up. In other words, somebody translated the valuable lesson to actually mean “stand up.”
As for those coyotes. The entire film plays out more or less as a broad, colorful, cartoonish comedy, with slapstick and kid-friendly punchlines and a parade of sight gags. Cows go surfing on a hilltop, that sort of thing. But then come the coyotes, and they’re played for some heavy seriousness. They’re scary and violent and mean, and the sheer sinister nature of their existence is a complete turnaround from what everything else in the film has to offer. It’s not that it’s too dark for a kids’ picture, but it is too dark for the kind of comedy the film’s trying to reach. Not only does this plotline not fit, it sticks out in perhaps the most awkward manner possible.
The same can be said for the film’s more tender moments, most of which involve the aftermath of Ben’s fight with the coyotes, or a potential romance between Otis and she-cow Daisy (Courtney Cox). These scenes might have been touching if placed in a film more able to understand how to use them; here, they come and go as if Oedekerk wanted a more emotional core to the story but couldn’t quite bring himself to bother figuring out how to work it in properly. It’s all undercooked, clumsily thrown in as a lost effort to give the film some heart.
Speaking of Daisy, it’s a very odd choice to make her pregnant. This serves no purpose other than to tack on some childbirth scene at the end, for cheap, unearned emotional impact. The idea, it seems, is to have Otis discover a sense of maturity when faced with fatherhood (thus mirroring an earlier scene in which Ben tells Otis that he was a partier, too, until a son came into his life), except the kid’s not his. Yet Oedekerk is afraid that a single mom might offend some viewers, so he’s quick to throw in a monologue explaining how Daisy is a widow. (I guess she-cows and he-cows get married in this cartoon universe.) It’s a long way to go to cop out of what is, essentially, a completely pointless subplot.
The rest of the film is littered with overlong party scenes (one bit, featuring an all-nighter in the barn, drags on forever, tossing in multiple song-and-dance numbers and a useless, overlong bit with two stoner pizza delivery guys) and uneventful side excursions (among them a cumbersome set piece involving Otis and some “Jersey cows” exacting revenge on some greasy kid for cow tipping). Nothing ever seems to go anywhere. What about the nosy neighbor across the way? What about the farmer? The pizza guys? The greasy kid? “Barnyard” is full of ideas that keep getting dropped.
Heck, even the tone of the climax changes too rapidly, leaving the background music to jump around, fade in and out and in again, in the most lumbering of manners. We’ll get half a song, then cut to loud action music, then fade to something more tender, never bothering to blend or fit.
Speaking of inconsistent, the animation choices are, well, downright bizarre. The cows have a plastic feel to them; they look more like toys than animals. Some of the barnyard residents are cartoony in their design, others closer to real. The coyotes have an almost disturbingly real look, their matted fur presenting some rather slick advances in computer animation. The humans are twisted, demented caricatures. Each animation style is quite fine on its own, but when thrown together in this mess, one wonders for what effect the animators were aiming. Nothing matches, and the end result is an absolute mess of clashing styles.
But this is little surprise, as Oedekerk’s career is overflowing with projects that came off as underdeveloped and hastily assembled. His live action credits include the second “Ace Ventura” movie, the ramshackle action comedy “Nothing To Lose,” and the disastrous kung fu parody “Kung Pow! Enter the Fist;” he’s worked on screenplays for “Patch Adams,” the Eddie Murphy “Nutty Professor” series, and “Bruce Almighty;” and he’s the guy responsible for the mercilessly unfunny “Thumb” line of short films (“Thumb Wars,” “Thumbtanic,” etc.). Yikes. His only real success can be found in the brilliant animated effort “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius,” although there’s plenty to indicate that he had little to do with what went right for that underrated gem.And now “Barnyard” joins the long list of failures with Oedekerk’s stamp on them. This time, he’s given us a cartoon with so little thought behind it that all the boys have girl parts. Ah, but who cares about all that, when you’re dealing with a lousy, forgettable, sloppy kiddie flick that’s never entertaining and seldom interesting?
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