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Barnyard - The Original Party Animals

A movie directed by Steve Oedekerk

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Are the filmmakers timid, stupid or intentionally subversive? Bulls with udders, parenting without any hint of intimacy

  • Dec 14, 2006
Apart from borrowing liberally from the basic premise of the Lion King (an orphaned cow goes from party animal to protector, that even includes a pivotal scene when the father paints the child's destiny in the stars), this film attempts to be about fathers and sons, but the filmmakers appear to have been uneasy with a literal depiction of male bovines (i.e. bulls). So they compromised by making even the males into cows (they even called themselves cows), complete with udders and absent other distinguishing marks of the bull. Not only that, but they carefully (but awkwardly) avoid almost any reference to male sexuality. That's why I don't buy the explanation (of one of the "Spotlight Reviews") that the filmmakers simply "hadn't done their research" (it doesn't take much research to know that male mammals of almost any species don't have prominent mammaries, but usually do have other prominent parts) -- the film deliberately and systematically avoids the issues that the filmmakers were uncomfortable with depicting. Otis's father, Ben, "found him" in a pasture one day. Ben himself becomes a father when his friend (there is no romance so it's difficult to call her his girlfriend), gives birth. They do say that she was once married, in an obvious effort to avoid suggestions that the child is "illegitimate," but imply without stating it directly that her former husband died in a storm. But there are no details. Ben has a heart to heart chat with her, but never asks about her husband. There is no hint that Otis's father Ben was ever married, and there is no indication of any other "married" animals or of any love or affection or sexual tension between any of the animals (with the bizarre exception of Otis's best friend a rat, who has the hots for a cow). In fact, the only marriage actually depicted in the film is a disfunctional and uncommunicative marriage between the farmer and his wife -- he, a couch potato who almost completely ignores her, and she, a neurotic who admits to taking medication for a chemical imbalance (not that there is anything wrong with that -- but it is a strange subject to bring up in a film that is ostensibly for very young children and that avoids other adult issues -- in fact, that was the one question my young son asked me during the film: "what did she mean when she said she had a chemical imbalance?").

It is a strange film, that has the feel of a plot that was developed before any thought was given as to how animated bulls would actually be depicted or of how marriage or the question where child animals come from in a story about fatherhood. Then, I would guess, they did some market research and realized that to be any less vague or inaccurate about such things would have alienated part of their core audience (worried that families with large children will tend to be conservative or would just prefer not to have to answer awkward questions from their children). I guess the big problem comes from the fact that if you are going to have cows walking upright they are going to display their gender -- the same problem never came up in films like "The Lion King" (but that film didn't have a problem conveying gender differences in hairstyle and stature). I suppose it's probably a stretch to think the filmmakers actually wanted to make their film a gender-bending depiction of same-sex marriages in which the "male" and "female" are simply roles adopted by same-gendered cows -- or transgendered cows, since I guess they could have been intending us to think of them as steers (i.e. sterilized bulls, but they don't have prominent udders either). What is bizarre is that the filmmakers are making a film for children, and trust that the children will be interested in matters that impact adults, but at the same time treat the children as utterly (udderly?) naive.

I'm not exactly sure how it would have been best to depict gender in this film, but am convinced there is a better way than blatantly false depictions. For a refreshing film that is frank about gender difference (and also happens to be a wonderful and unique film, that is well worth watching) without making a big deal about it (treating it as the natural thing it in fact is) take a look at the Japanese animated film Pom Poko, in which male raccoons prominently display their "pouches" and where intimacy between animals is dealt with in a way that is both sensitive (and in no way offensive or graphic) and tender. Even Bambi (another wonderful film) is a great example of how to address such issues sensitively without needing to resort to bizarre evasions in the way that this film does.

If what you want is a moderately entertaining animated film that will capture the attention of small children for a couple of hours, I guess you could do worse than this one. (That was largely my aim in renting it, and my kids laughed a few times, and seemed to like it a little -- though unlike some films they weren't clamoring to watch it again the next day.) It has a few funny moments, and a "feel good" message about taking responsibility. For my part, though, I find myself increasingly put off by the whole process of "filmmaking by committee" that appears to dominate much of the more recent films for children put out by Hollywood. Too many of these films treat the audience as stupid rather than finding a way to intelligently deal with sensitive subjects in an age appropriate fashion and without giving offense.

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More Barnyard - The Original Party ... reviews
review by . February 09, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
The first thing you need to know about BARNYARD all the cows in the movie have udders, including the males. That's right, even the bulls have udders (except for the bull that rides the man-riding machine--he's the only male cow who even looks like a bull). Director Steve Oedekerk has said that he wanted all the cows, even the males, to have udders because he thought it was incredibly funny. The idea is kind of humorous, but after a moment the juvenile joke loses its humor and the gag seems incredibly …
review by . February 08, 2007
The kids enjoyed this and I guess that's all that matters. To me this film at times feels like it was made by the Farrelly Brothers. It's slapstick humor and it's wildly nutty behavior that makes it look like an R-rated comedy, makes it all the while more funny The story is sort of like a parody of Lion King. Farmers on a farm are keeping animals under their eye and well protected. And animals pretty much behave like, well, animals. But what happens when the farmers out. Well, the party begins, …
About the reviewer
Nathan Andersen ()
Ranked #28
I teach philosophy at Eckerd College, in Saint Petersburg, Florida.      I run an award-winning International Cinema series in Tampa Bay (, and am co-director of … more
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When the farmer's back is turned, the animals party down inBarnyard. A young cow named Otis (voiced by Kevin James,The King of Queens) loves to have fun at the farm's wild late-night hoe-downs, despite the disapproval of his father, Ben (Sam Elliott,Thank You for Smoking). When Ben dies defending the barnyard from marauding coyotes, Otis is chosen as the new leader--but responsibility sits uneasily on Otis' head and he fears he may not be able to protect his friends from the coyotes.Barnyard's design of the cows seems inspired by Gary Larson'sThe Far Sidecomics; though the style is simple, the characters are surprisingly expressive. From moment to moment, the movie is reasonably entertaining. The actors--including Courteney Cox, Danny Glover, and David Koechner (Anchorman) as a very menacing coyote--do solid voice work and there are plenty of amusing gags. But asBarnyardgallops towards its end, the combination of cliches (the story is a clumsy reworking ofThe Lion King), odd choices (the male cows have udders), and lackluster dialogue makes the movie sag.--Bret Fetzer
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Director: Steve Oedekerk
Screen Writer: Steve Oedekerk
DVD Release Date: December 12, 2006
Runtime: 90 minutes
Studio: Paramount
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