This anatomically incorrect tale of party animals in the barnyard may be the best CGI-animated flick of the year. It stands out from the herd with clever action, witty dialogue, a fantastic string of musical numbers and some good old-fashioned messages about heroism and taking care of others. I loved it. My critiquing criteria were simple — I wasn’t bored for a single minute and the Saturday afternoon audience I saw it with left the theater happy.
Many film critics have been ranting about Barnyard‘s ridiculous depiction of both girl and boy bovines with udders — pretty awful udders, too, that look like toilet plungers with balloon tips. Oh, get over it. Little kids couldn’t care less. They can differentiate between a make-believe tale and a documentary on Animal Planet. They accept a film’s stupid stuff and just flash forward to the fun parts.
When humans aren’t looking, the farmer’s animals walk on two legs and spend much of their life hiding their upright abilities from the eyes of prying primates. All the domestic critters — the cows, mules, sheep, dogs, mice, pigs, chickens — are really just wild party animals at heart. At night they close the door of the barn and turn it into a rowdy social club — they set up the microphones, pull out the milk bar, ride the “mechanical man,” throw darts at the Colonel Sander’s target, sing and dance like Hollywood hoofers, and do stand-up comedy routines that keep everybody cackling, snorting, neighing and howling with glee.
Ben (Sam Elliot), a brave old bull marked like a Marine in camouflage, tries to make the animals aware of the danger that lurks outside the farm’s fence. He’s concerned that his beloved but immature son Otis (Kevin James) won’t be able to take the mantle of leadership. “A strong man stands up for himself,” he lectures the young bull. “A stronger man stands up for others.”
Ben valiantly dies defending Etta the Hen (Asheville sweetheart Andie MacDowell) and her sisters from a sinister and, for a kids movie, surprisingly sadistic, pack of coyotes. In the current fashion of sanitized violence in PG movies, there’s no blood during Ben’s demise, but even little kids understood the imagery and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Otis is reluctant to step into his father’s big hoofprints and so he continues to act like an irresponsible good ol’ boy. He takes his buddies on hilarious action episodes — they surfboard on an ice block down a mountainside, joyride in a stolen car, and wreak vengeance on human brat boys who indulged in cow-tipping. Enter Daisy (Courtney Cox), a docile girly cow, whose former herd was wiped out by a storm and who is now a widow big with calf. Her friend Bessie (Wanda Sykes), the token dark-skinned, smart-talking cow, doesn’t trust that Otis will be a good adoptive father, no matter how ardently he smooches Daisy under the starry skies. Being a heroic tale, Otis must face his destiny and, in the echo of his father’s words, gather the courage he needs to stand up for others.
Little kids, parents and grandparents will love Barnyard. Unattached adults and older kids might fidget. Sensitive kids should be distracted during the scary coyote scenes. Rated PG for some mild peril and rude humor.
– reviewed by Marcianne Miller