You can generally tell within 20 minutes or so if a film is going to fly or not. Very few films recover from a disastrous first 20 minutes, and there are even fewer that go from bad to worse to engendering in its audience an active and vitriolic hatred. Such a film is BARNYARD, that start out mildly dull and then builds to a crescendo of awfulness.
It’s not just the most obvious problem, a watch-cow with udders, but that’s a good place to start. This is not an Amazonian heifer, which would be a statement about gender equality most delightful to report. No, this is a boy cow with the voice of Sam Elliot, who carries more testosterone in his little finger than most soccer teams have in their entire starting lineup. He’s not the only one, either. All the boy cows have udders and those udders look exactly the same as the one’s that the girls sport, large, wobbly, and prominent. It could have been, in the right hands, a cute concept and a running joke. But in BARNYARD, there is never any mention made of it, even though the cows spend most of their time on two legs, which brings the wobbling udders front, center, and disturbingly tumescent.
It is the tale of Otis (Kevin James), given to unfortunate entrances and the call of the party life, who is a gross disappointment to his father, Ben (Elliot), the leader of the barnyard denizens. Ben takes his responsibilities seriously, be it keeping the vegan farmer who owns the place from finding out his critters have their own sub-culture going, to keeping the local pack of coyotes from making meals out of said critters. And it’s his dream for Otis to take over one day, a dream that seems as unrealistic as the dream viewers will have of this film turning into something worth spending 90 or so minutes on.
Needless to say, Otis finds himself in charge, and in love with a girl cow (Courtney Cox) whose own farm washed away. And, further needless to say, things will go according to cliché with a story that seems exhausted from its overuse since the dawn of history, a situation not helped by the intrusion every five minutes or so of a completely forgettable song. There is no charm here, no whimsy, though there are moments that attempt the simulacrum of same, and jokes aspire to be merely annoying. Instead, there is the whiff of filmmakers who are not so much amused by what they have created as interested in the soundtrack spin-off and merchandising possibilities.
The plot is an excuse to cobble together a few scenes either taken from other, better animated features, or half-baked scenarios that start from nowhere and return then quickly. There are exactly two good things going for this flick. One is the cows’ revenge on cow-tippers by tipping the boy responsible, and a flock of parachuting turtles that drift lazily as background to something eminently less worth looking at.
Even the possibility of using this as some sort of pacifier for tots who are pre- and incipiently verbal is taken out of play by the depiction of the coyotes. Satanically red and malevolent in ways that are genuinely creepy as they prey on innocent victims, they are the stuff of nightmares, or at least lengthy explanations about the food chain that tender ears might not be ready to hear.
BARNYARD doesn’t just violate the audience’s right to entertainment, it violates animal dignity to such an extent that PETA might want to consider getting involved.