Release Date:  August 4, 2006
Rating:  G (for mild peril and rude humor)
Genre:  Animation/Drama
Run Time:  88 min.
Director:  Steve Oedekerk
Actors:  Kevin James, Courteney Cox, Joe DiMaggio, Sam Elliott, Danny Glover, and Andie MacDowell

Have you noticed how often God seems to speak through movies to highlight the issues that are closest to His heart?  Last year the movie “Dreamer” powerfully spoke to those shattered by broken dreams and desperate for restoration, and several recent movies, such as “Chicken Little” and “Curious George” highlighted issues related to the need for good fathering.  In the same vein, Paramount’s “Barnyard” is a vivid portrayal of the need for children to model their lives after strong, sacrificial role models.

“Barnyard” tells the story of a lively little farm that looks normal at first glance but comes alive whenever the farmer leaves.  Chickens quit clucking and start jabbering in English; pigs quit oinking and start arguing; mules and cows stand up and walk on their hind legs, and the whole group organizes themselves into town meetings and crazy dances.  The highly respected cow, Ben (Sam Elliott) is the group’s leader who, though soft-spoken, is always wise, selfless, and in control. (Incidentally, there are boy cows in this movie, complete with pink udders … Hmm …).

On one particular occasion, Ben is searching for his party-boy, Otis (Kevin James), who is late for the meeting.  It seems that Otis and his cronies have taken off for a joy ride and are “surfing” down a nearby mountain, almost getting themselves killed.  When they finally do return to the meeting, Otis is distracted by his cell phone and a call from an underground rat who supplies interested parties with contraband.  Finally, Ben has had enough, and he pulls Otis aside to have a man-to-man, or cow-to-cow talk.  Ben warns his party-boy son that it’s time to grow up and take responsibility and to become what he was destined to be:  a leader and protector.

The problem is that Otis just wants to get back to the party.  After all, he’s scheduled to do a song and dance number.  So, instead of fulfilling his duty and taking his turn as the watch-cow on the hill, he gets his dad to agree to filling in the watch duties for the night, and Otis scurries back to have his fun.

While the animals are partying, complete with their own rockin’ band of gophers, pigs, and a sort of a Tasmanian devil, no one realizes that a pack of horrible coyotes has snuck into the barnyard and is about to take off with the chickens. No one sees that Ben has to fight off the bullies, single-handedly, and no one knows – until it’s too late – what dire consequences Ben must pay.

Soon, the animals elect Otis to be their leader, but it seems that the party-boy is lacking in certain leadership skills.  Just in time, heaven sends him two great challenges – one that could send him running off in irreparable defeat, and the other that could stretch him and shake him and cause him to pull from within the qualities that could save the animals.  Otis must choose whether to rely on the carefree attitudes that have helped through life thus far, or to embrace the ways of his father that he once considered needless and archaic.

“Barnyard” is a beautifully animated and well directed movie, and no doubt there will be little barnyard figures of all these quirky, memorable animals in the fast food restaurants in no time.  The characters are fun, and the interaction between animals and humans is delightful. Especially entertaining is a car-chase sequence where the cows are out joy riding in a car they “borrowed” from some cranky humans, and the police are chasing them.

The voice talents of Kevin James and Courteney Cox (the love interest cow) are very entertaining, and the music score is very moving and fitting.  Best of all, the story is solid, and the lessons are clear without being preachy.

Besides it being an animated movie where animals come to life, there are other elements that draw upon the “willing suspension of disbelief.”  There is the aforementioned problem of udders on male cows, but there are also constant portrayals of the animals drinking … milk.  The party cows look like it’s making them drunk, too!  Another hmm. ...

Overall, though, the movie is sweet and fun, and appropriate for all ages, but parents should be cautioned that very small children who might be scared by the vicious coyotes. 

AUDIENCE:  Children and adults

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  None.
  • Language:  None, though there are a few lightly crass comments and some scatological humor.
  • Sex:  None.
  • Violence:  Light, slapstick, cartoon violence. Farmer gets kicked by donkey – several times, and passes out; cows steal a car and go joy-riding; chickens throw darts at Colonel Sander’s picture, etc.