Barnyard - The Original Party Animals Review
"No I won't back down!" So sings Ben on a quiet night that he stands guard at the entrance to a farm, watching for coyotes approaching from the forests. Earlier that day, Ben had been disappointed by seeing his son fritter away his responsibilities on dancing in the barn, dancing behind the postman and snowboarding down a mountainside entirely lacking in snow. But as a farm meeting breaks up, Ben reminds Otis that, "A strong man stands up for himself. A stronger man stands up for others!" That night, watching for coyotes on his own and with his son not having shown up, Ben does his standing up for others.
Unfortunately, that is the night when the coyotes decide to call on the hens in the shed, telling them that they won't take each and every chicken...six will do for this evening. As the hens squawk, the coyotes giggle and prod them but the noise rouses Ben and soon the door of the hen shed has been kicked in and the six coyotes now have to contend will one very large and very angry bull...
There is an odd contradiction at the heart of Barnyard. The film leaves us under no mistake that it is animated and with that comes characters who have been adapted for the format, no more so than a squat little farmer with legs mere inches high and a head that makes up half his body weight. And so it proves with all of the human characters, even moreso than the animal ones. Even the cat that is literally skin and bone, the sheepdog that's made from the grey twine of household mops and an odd furry thing that might be a distant relation to the animal that skittered in and out of the walls in the home of Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor.
But then the cows appear. Or, rather, the bulls. At least they might be bulls as they all have bull-names like Otis and Ben but, standing upright, they all have udders, which would make them cows. As it is, they look instead to have, what with their deep voices, a peculiar set of four penises waggling on the end of a bright pink sink plunger. Which isn't quite like any sexual apparatus that I've encountered, and that includes a remote building in Mexico that housed a woman who once unlocked a car after inserting the key fob into her vagina.
Which doesn't happen in Barnyard but a great deal does elsewhere, including the holding of various hoedowns in the main farm building. The actual story is a very slim affair in which Otis must learn to stand up for other, less able creatures so Barnyard puffs itself up with all manner of pop songs, skits and gags. None of these do very much to move the main story on but there are laughs to be had with four dogs playing cards (and a picture being painted of said scene), a hen replacing a cue ball with a freshly laid egg and a sure sign of how tough those dog years can be. Much less interesting is a stand up routine voiced by someone we're surely meant to know but is, with gags about turkeys being unfortunate enough to know when it is they'll die, it's a droll affair. With cheesy house, soul, country'n'western and rock all jostling for a place in Barnyard, it's a noisy affair, which might well leave a lot of confused kids in its wake.
This is a shame as the actual story is a fairly warm tale of a wayward cow learning the importance of standing up for others, hens in this case. Otis has to learn that there are all manner of dangers beyond the fences that ring the farm. Some of these can be dealt with easily - Otis and the Jersey Cows steal a car, break into a house and go boy-tipping after some kids tip a cow on their patch - but others require more delicate handling, not least the defence of the hens from the coyotes. With the voice of Sam Elliott as Ben, there is an obvious warmth to the tale so it is a shame that Barnyard seems to lose faith in that story in favour of motorbikin' cows, a police chase, mobile phones and stage diving. One doubts if Pixar would have done but that is surely the difference between a John Lasseter and Barnyard's Steve Oedekerk. And that probably explains why, for all Paramount's backing, Barnyard is second- or third-division animation. Not helped by those very strange bulls-with-udders!
Apparently, there is a Barnyard television show planned for sometime this year, with this film serving less as a pilot than a proving that the technology can be made to render the episodes cheaply. Or that this television show is a means to recoup some of the cost of this feature film. Either way, the film has a nice Fisher Price/Little People look about it that will be familiar to the parents of pre-school children, for whom the film is made, and the DVD looks fine, as sharp as can be given with the deliberately clunky nature of the design and a good use of colour. But that quality comes and goes with some lovely nighttime scenes in between the more frantic moments in the barnyard hoedowns when there is much more artefacting evident in the picture.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is a fairly good one and though it springs to life with the coming of a song or six, it's much better in the quiet moments with Ben and with the scarier scenes during the attack of the coyotes. Things get much louder late on in the film with the animals on motorbikes and a Police Camera Action!-styled car chase but the DVD manages to keep things sounding clear, albeit losing the dialogue as it does so.
Commentary: Director Steve Oedekerk, producer Paul Marshall and other members of the animating team come together for this commentary, which was obviously very enjoyable for them but less so for the audience. With the glut of animators on the commentary, it does get very technical at times but then, as though someone were prompting them, they remember they're commentating on a children's feature and they lighten up. At times it is funny but all of the chatter about sky tones, the animating of fur and the qualities of the voice acting doesn't make for much of a listen. Neither does their obvious enthusiasm for the songs.
Music Videos: As if there wasn't enough in the film already, this DVD plays host to two new ones, Barnyard Bop (2m00s) and Mud (2m48s). At least the first of these spares us the sight of anyone involved in the writing of original material for this film but Mud takes us behind the scenes to show us the band responsible for the song, the North Mississippi Allstars. To be honest, I'd always thought such bands were pulled together solely for recording the music to an animated film and went their own way thereafter but, in their talking about records, it would appear that the North Mississippi Allstars have a life outside of Barnyard. That there are people in the world with that little taste is not a comforting thought.
Boogeying In The Barn (5m23s): "The song was originally called Mississippi Mud...I rewrote it from a cow's perspective!" The North Mississippi Allstars return to tell us the challenge they faced as artists when called upon to provide the music for Barnyard. The look worn by North Mississippi Allstar Cody Dickinson at saying this suggests that he takes no small amount of pride in this but drummer Dickinson does look like a man challenged by much in life.
Utter Talent - Voices Of Barnyard (10m36): Noting that they managed to avoid calling this Udder Talent, this feature looks at the actors lassoed into lending their voices to the animals in Barnyard. Cue much footage of actors in the recording studios and interviews with Andie MacDowell, Wanda Sykes (who you'll know as Wanda in Curb Your Enthusiasm), Courtney Cox, Kevin James and Sam Elliott. I have lost a little bit of respect for Sam Elliott for appearing in this but, assuming that it was in his contract somewhere, only a tiny little bit.
An Animator's Life (12m19s): After features like this, I'm grateful that the purchase of a loaf of bread doesn't bring with it a DVD featuring interviews with everyone involved in the baking of it. This feature describes the lot of the animating department from their design of the animals to the final rendering of the film with all of the problems along the way.
Method Acting w/ Kevin James (2m20s): Want to see a man roll around in the hay with a bull? And not in a film produced in Denmark in the couple of years in which animal pornography was made legal there? This is actually a pretty funny feature in which actor Kevin James, who provides the voice of Otis, spends time down on the farm getting to know cows. Well, it's funny for its first minute but once James tries getting to better know the animals, the gags begin to go sour. Much like the milk yanked from the cows by James.
Deleted Scenes (9m53s): Available with an optional commentary, each scene here is bookended by a couple of seconds from film before it cuts into storyboards and unfinished animation.
Finally, there is a Theatrical Trailer (2m22s) and the Nickoleon On-Air Campaign (6m14s). As a closing note, all of these bonus features are subtitled in German, English and Turkish as is the main film.