August 10, 2006

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Barnyard (PG)
Cows of confused gender face life issues (such as not getting eaten by coyotes) in the tiresome animated movie Barnyard: The Original Party Animals.

And though that extended title appears on all the official Web sites, movie posters seem to stick to just Barnyard, as though even the creators could see that their movie needed some trimming.

Otis the Cow (voice of Kevin James) is a party guy (despite having udders — the whole cow/bull thing has apparently escaped this film' creators) who doesn't particularly like the responsibility his wise, farm-protector dad Ben (Sam Elliot channeling Johnny Cash) is trying to push him toward. Be the stronger man who looks after the many animals on the farm and keeps the farmer from figuring out that animals can talk and walk around on two hooves, Ben says. Party on, Garth, Otis says. Otis and his friends don't want to spend their evenings patrolling the fence and watching for coyotes. They want to party at the barn dancehall. Otis is especially interested in making time with Daisy (Courtney Cox), the new cow on the farm who, though pregnant, is still comely.

But then the coyotes appear, led by the malevolent Dag (David Koechner), and threaten the hen house. Ben stands up to them (horribly accompanied by a kid-friendly cover of "I Won't Back Down") and fights off the coyotes. But they take too much fight out of him. Cue the shot of animals paying their respects at a hilltop grave.

Now its' up to Otis to keep the cows, pigs, chickens and assorted other animals in line. But first he'll have to give up his prankster ways and get his friends to stop treating him like a party boy and start treating him like a leader.

Yeesh, Simba much?

The farmer is a vegan, the boy cows have udders, Wanda Sykes plays the same smack-talking best friend she has in some dozen films — all of this absurdity might have been OK had the movie had an even remotely original script, smart writing or animation that was pretty to look at. (Cars, for example, annoyed me during the last third of the movie and yet I can sort of forgive that because it did give me some pretty scenery.) But Barnyard had no such saving graces and on top of that committed a nearly unforgivable kids' movie sin of having no kid characters. Otis might act irresponsible but he acts like an irresponsible 20something, not an irresponsible 10-year-old. Daisy is pregnant and has been married — her plight would be more at home on Desperate Housewives. Even the characters meant to serve as comic sidekicks seem like post-collegiate stoners and slackers more than little buddies on top of which is the baffling choice to sideline what hilarity these sidekicks do offer.

I saw this movie at a peak take-your-kid-to-the-movie time on a summer afternoon and the theater was packed full of antsy kids who got no less antsy as the movie wore on. There was talking, multiple requests to go to the bathroom, demands for more or different snacks and a continuous rustle of kids shifting in seats, getting up and being yanked back down and occasionally twisting free and running down aisles — the sounds of boredom. I don't blame them — these kids — like me and, no doubt, their parents — just wanted to get the heck away from the farm. D

— Amy Diaz


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