Kevin James, Sam Elliott, Courteney Cox, Wanda Sykes
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
I get stared at a lot.
Now, unfortunately, it's not my particularly stunning looks, my sparkling personality or even my flair for fashion.
Nope, it's because I'm different.
Sometimes, I really feel sorry for small children. They spend their entire childhood being taught about their fingers and their toes and their bodies THEN have to run into someone like me.
It's just not fair...they simply have to stare. Unless they've been raised around individuals with disabilities they simply don't know what to make of my situation. Born with Spina Bifida, I am a double, below-knee amputee and also possess the trademark Spina Bifida condition of Scoliosis. I'm in a wheelchair and, well, all of this adds up together to something most young children either stare at, laugh at, ask about or simply have to quickly run off to their mothers asking "Mommy, why's that man got no legs?"
All of this personal exposition is for a good reason, I promise. It brings us to my review of "Barnyard," a reasonably humorous animated film with cows that are, well, different.
In case you don't know this, let me share with you a basic cow truth. Cows are female...yet, in "Barnyard" you not only have male cows, but you have male cows with udders.
Why, I ask, Why? What's the point? This genetic flaw is never mentioned in the film or addressed in any meaningful manner. It's not like the udders are hidden or even just discreet...nope, they're featured prominently and for no apparent reason at all. Is it some crass marketing campaign? Some odd, freakish statement against females? What is it?
Furthermore, is a children's film centered around transsexual cows really that entertaining?
Truthfully, "Barnyard" is actually a fairly entertaining film. However, absolute and complete surrender is required in order to ever let go of the sight of the udders on the male cows. This degree of surrender was nothing I ever achieved and, thus, I never found myself completely in tune with the goings on of the film.
The other snag with "Barnyard" is a seemingly innocuous undertone of racism in several of its scenes. Both Danny Glover's voice work as a mule and an odd routine with a black mouse wearing cheese "bling" seem to have an almost mean-spirited undertone to them.
Is it a bad sign that I'm halfway through a review and haven't really even mentioned the actors yet?
Yep, it's a bad sign.
"Barnyard" centers on Otis (Kevin James), a teenage cow who lives a carefree life on the farm and who will someday inherit leadership of the animals from his father (Sam Elliott). Otis, however, is more interested in partying down. This leads to multiple, non-plot related scenes that do nothing to advance the story except evoke a few laughs. One day, Otis's father is killed by an evil coyote (David Koechner). Otis continues his partying ways and abandons those on the farm who need him most, however, he will eventually find his powerful inner cow (with udders!) and save the day!
This basic storyline is essentially all there is to "Barnyard," with multiple partying scenes thrown in for good measure. Some of these party scenes are actually funny, however, such as the concept of "boy tipping" and the various human-related party antics that make us look pretty darn stupid (Though, I'm certainly grateful I don't have udders!).
Beyond the "udder" catastrophe and the semi-subliminal racism, "Barnyard" is also challenged by a rather glaring similarity to "The Lion King" in storyline and structure. Additionally, while the silliness of "Barnyard" may be attractive to young children the film also may scare these same young children with some rather intense fighting scenes throughout the film.
Courteney Cox, as a pregnant cow, the previously mentioned Danny Glover and Andie MacDowell do nice jobs in supporting roles, however, yet another cinematic appearance by Wanda Sykes adds up to one too many films this year for Ms. Sykes.
The film's visuals are satisfactory, however, add very little to the film itself. Steve Oedekerk's direction and script lack the style and depth of his work on "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius." The film's soundtrack is a hodgepodge of popular music, including a particularly well used version of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" and an interesting, though somewhat offensive, rap number.
While several of Oedekerk's jokes and scenes work nicely, just as many fall completely flat or simply lack authenticity.
The overall feeling I had leaving "Barnyard" was one of feeling genuinely creeped out. With the odd and unexplained decision to create male cows with udders, an undertone of racism and scenes that often bounce too quickly between innocent fun and mean-spiritedness, "Barnyard" left me wondering about the conversations parents might be having with their children on the way home.
In a year when it seems like every other week brings a new animated film, "Barnyard" may be the oddest one of them all. It's an animated film that works hard trying to please everyone, but may end up pleasing noone.
The Independent Critic is proud to support Indy-based Heartland Film by committing to the 50/50 x 2020 Pledge - By the end of the year 2020, The Independent Critic will achieve gender parity in its reviews of both shorts and feature films. Furthermore, The Independent Critic also pledges support for the Ruderman Family Foundation's call for authentic representation of people with disabilities in film and actively commits to leverage its journalistic influence to effect genuine change in the film industry by calling for and actively promoting authentic and inclusive casting and hiring of people with disabilities.