So far, summer 2006 has been a good one for pixilated pleasures, like Cars, Monster House and The Ant Bully. That winning streak hits a hiccup, however, with the colorful but clumsy computer-animated Barnyard (Paramount).
Set on a farm where, unbeknownst to the owner, the animals can not only walk and talk like humans, but hold nightly hoedowns after lights out. Party animal Otis (voiced by Kevin James) is a callow young cow, who spends his days carousing with his barnyard buddies — a rooster, pig, ferret and wisecracking mouse who gets the film's best lines.
But when his upright dad, Ben (Sam Elliott), the barnyard's vigilant guardian, is killed defending the henhouse from marauding coyotes, Otis must take his father's place in standing up to the predatory pack whose chicken coop raids become increasingly brazen.
Other voice talent includes Courteney Cox as Daisy, a widowed pregnant cow; Wanda Sykes as Bessy, her sassy best friend; and Danny Glover as wise mule Miles.
In more skillful hands, the film could have been a fine fable about coming of age in the animal world: in other words, The Lion King. (Just substitute coyotes for hyenas.)
As it is, the writing — apart from a few moments between Otis and Ben — is mediocre and much of the humor is of the im-moo-ture barnyard variety, including a scene where Otis and company steal the farmer's car to teach some pranksters a lesson and later “borrow” motorcycles from outside a bikers bar — not the best message for children.
Director Steve Oedekerk is quoted as saying he wanted the film to echo the raucous mayhem of the old Warner Bros. cartoons. Forget it. The tediously boisterous musical numbers are more likely to induce weary sighs than laughter, especially one involving a manic hairball creature called “Crazy Mike.”
Saving the film from being udder-ly disappointing is its admirable, if heavy-handed, message about embracing responsibility and putting the common good ahead of one's own self-interest. “A strong man stands up for himself. A stronger man stands up for others,” Ben counsels Otis repeatedly.
The preachy and obvious manner in which it is conveyed works against the noble sentiment. Still, given our arrested-development age which celebrates extended adolescence and bemoans growing up, perhaps a little preaching is in order.
The film contains mildly crude humor, some menace and peril that may be upsetting to very young children, heedless theft and several mature story elements. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
(This review appears courtesy of US Conference of Catholic Bishop's Office for Film and Broadcasting.)