The animals populating Steve Oedekerk
's Barnyard: The Original Party Animals remind me of the plastic Little People figurines with which my two-year-old plays. The cows wear snap-on noses and hold objects in synthetically smooth velvet hands that look more like designer gloves than hooves. The bulbous pigs each sport perfectly positioned mud blotches, as if the spots were painted on by toy factory workers.
The visuals fit the overall mood, because Oedekerk has penned a Lion King clone that's tailored to the Fisher-Price crowd. Instead of an MPAA rating, the Barnyard poster should carry a warning: "For ages 5 and below." Article continues below
In this environment as in many animated scenarios the animals behave like people whenever humans are out of sight. They talk, dance, sing, belch, blow bumblebees from their nostrils, and cower in fear of wild coyotes (because hyenas were already used in the aforementioned King).
Our hero, Otis (Kevin James
), is an immature teenage cow sowing his wild oats
or whatever it is cows sow. Think of him as Simba. Otis is nagged by dad Ben (Sam Elliott
) or Mufasa to take more responsibility. But the selfish cow would rather spend his downtime entertaining his adolescent buds during late-night concerts in the barn.
Yes, Barynard forces itself to follow a musical format. It mimics Disney
's animation formula to the letter, which means every 10 minutes of exposition must be interrupted by a serenade in this case, it's a series of barnstorming ditties that includes a slow-churning country cover of Tom Petty's plucky pop castoff, "I Won't Back Down."
The predictable Barnyard brings some balance to this summer's animated output. We began with Cars
and Monster House
, enjoyable features that married relevant messages to their impressive art. Since then, we've chipped away at their progress with noisy, colorful but hollow adventures like this and The Ant Bully
. Kids are entertained, but parents are cheated.
During my Barnyard screening, a boy who had giggled at every kick, drop, and tumble turned to his mom and asked with sincerity, "Why are you not laughing?" She didn't respond. The kid is Oedekerk's ideal audience member old enough to chuckle and too young to know better.