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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Barnyard: The Original Party Animals

Barnyard: The Original Party Animals is an udderly unbelievable tale about a young steer named Otis who is up to his udders in trouble, which may be his first problem since even I know that steers don’t have udders and aren’t called “cows”, which the characters in this fantasy do. These “cows”, mostly male, who star in Barnyard: The Original Party Animals are only one of a dozen species currently nesting at the Essex Cinemas in a comedy from Steve Oedekerk, the writer of Ace Venture: When Nature Calls. I’m already taking bets that Mr. Oedekerk has never been on a farm or seen a cow outside of the meat department at his local grocery, but that doesn’t take away from the heart of the story. It just distracts once in a while.

I can’t help but think that Mr. Oedekerk may have seen The Lion King a few hundred times and subconsciously absorbed way too much of it in his development of the plot. Like The Lion King, the story here follows a playful son, Otis (voiced by
Kevin James; tv’s “The King of Queens”), who pays no heed to his father, Ben (Sam Elliott; Thank You For Smoking), the group’s leader, as dear old dad tries to teach his son the importance of learning to be a leader so he can grow up
and take his place someday. Ben’s most important lesson to his adopted son is "A strong man stands up for himself, a stronger man stands up for others" but, unfortunately, Otis never seems to hear anything Mufasa…, er, Ben says since Otis, the party animal, takes his father for granted and ignores all of his responsibilities. Because of this, he is not around when coyotes attack and kill Ben as he bravely defends the farm’s chicken coop and its’ residents.

The trailer for Barnyard: The Original Party Animals certainly doesn’t hint at anything quite so heavy and it may come as a shock to parents of young ones not prepared for the scarier moments of the movie and the aftermath, including a brief memorial service by the animals at Ben’s grave, but these weighty scenes are instantly erased by a bright and laughable out of control barnyard where the animals, without a leader, run rampant. Ignoring their rules about never being seen doing “human” things in the light of day, the animals are singing, dancing, flying about, using machines, sling-shotting one another from here-to-there, and generally creating chaos, all of which is colorful, noisy, and fills the screen with visual jokes to help us forget the previous tragedy, although it is basically the plot point that will drive the rest of the film.

The craziness of the farm has to be subdued, and that is quickly brought home when the farmer himself arrives and sees the action. What comes next is by far the funniest sequence of the movie and brings a great deal of laughter from viewers of all ages, but I wouldn’t dream of telling you what happens because the answer the gang comes up with is so surprising and out of left field it would ruin it to even give you a hint.

Needless to say, Otis has his own wizened counsel, named Rafiki, er, I mean Miles (Danny Glover;
Dreamgirls), a mule who knows all and offers just the right advice as needed and he, along with love interest Daisy, a pregnant widowed cow (Courtenay Cox; Zoom), who comes into Otis’ life just as he loses his other foundation, Ben, help steer the young steer from his life of a juvenile delinquent to a real BBB (Big Bull In The Barnyard). It isn’t easy.

Otis and his pals, the Jersey Cows, sounding a lot like they came directly from Secaucus, New
Jersey, enjoy carousing the night away at what are literally “barn dances”, and they are not above stealing the farmer’s car to go for a joyride and practice a little "boy-tipping" as revenge for some kids earlier sneaking into the pasture and tipping one of the sleeping cows.

Eventually, though, the future catches up to the “cow” who will be king and Otis is forced to face down the coyotes that killed his dad. He also has to face another impending challenge he hadn’t thought he was prepared for as well ~ fatherhood! Like Ben did with Otis and his mother, Otis realizes his love for Daisy includes the calf she has been carrying and he grows up enough to do as Ben did when Otis was a little one and takes the calf on as his own.

Obviously, there are lessons to be learned here and the subtle reassurances for the younger viewers that adoption is as natural and normal a way to become a part of a family as traditional b
irth is a great one. So too is the simple underlying message that when parents are trying to teach you things it is for a good reason and not simply to be a pain. Whether these ideas get reinforced or lost by the funnier bits, like Otis’ mimicking the mailman behind his back without getting caught or his mountaintop surfing (“Cow-abunga!”), will depend a great deal on if there are parents in the audience along with their kids to remind them of these issues later.

The udders are bound to cause an utter catastrophe for adults who may just write the movie off before they even give it a try, but Barnyard: The Original Party Animals is actually a pretty sweet animated feature in spite of the misplaced breasts. Just pretend that for some odd reason the boy “cows” have all decided to put plumber's helpers with baby bottle nipples attached to them on their tummies. It seems like something Otis just might have done during his partying days anyway.

Barnyard: The Original Party Animals will leave you mooooo!-ved, crowing with excitement, and cackling with delight. Enjoy it at the
Essex Cinemas this week, but please, leave your cattle at home.

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