Udder Disappointment

Washington City Paper | August 14, 2006
The saying “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” ironically doesn’t apply at all in Barnyard: The Original Party Animals. In writer-director Steve Oedekerk’s animated feature, cows get married. And their babies coo and walk on two legs immediately after birth. Also, the male cows have udders. In other words, after seeing Barnyard, your children—who, no matter how young, probably already understand that cows go “Moo” and not “My husband was killed in a storm”—might have to be rewired by a science class.

Then again, Oedekerk’s the guy responsible for assaulting audiences with 2002’s Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, so compared to a live-action, three-boobed woman, maybe these modifications aren’t so irritating. And neither is the movie itself, exactly. Boring is a much better description of it. The premise is a thin one: When a farmer (Fred Tatasciore) is away, his animals play...I mean, “party.” They craft boogie boards for out-of-control rides down hills. They use cell phones to buy “gray market” items from underground gophers (get it?). And at night, they throw wild barn-burners, drinking, dancing, and college-party chaos the rewards for their daily placidity. It’s all spearheaded by the bovine Otis (Kevin James), much to the chagrin of his father, Ben (Sam Elliott), who takes the responsibilities for organizing meetings and watching over the henhouse—passing the time by singing “I Won’t Back Down”—so coyotes don’t snack on the birds at night.

The time comes, however, for Otis to grow up and become a leader himself, and anyone who’s seen a movie before knows the rest. The result is a swell-enough message for kids (though promoting crazee misbehavior when an authority figure’s back is turned perhaps isn’t the best idea), and they’ll likely find the sight of animals goofing around pretty amusing for a while. But the parties are shown over, and over, and over again, and when the movie goes Bambi, the maudlin mourning scenes seem to last forever. Oedekerk isn’t the most original humorist, either, blatantly modeling a human character on South Park’s Cartman, right down to bits of dialogue.

To be fair, there are a few funny bits here and there: a frail dog on crutches who’s about to turn a mere 13; a nosy, shrill neighbor (Maria Bamford) who’s constantly calling the police about the seemingly nogoodnik farmer; a Cops sendup when a few of the animals seek revenge on a cow-tipper. Even so, compared to recently released animated features The Ant Bully and Monster House, Barnyard is a disappointment. Then again, a movie in which a singing cow—even a male one with bodacious udders—introduces kids to Tom Petty can’t be all bad.

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