Even cows come of age, and in “Barnyard,” they do it like “Dogs Playing Poker” jacked up on bovine growth hormone. Writer-director Steve Oedekerk delivers plenty of hilarious moments for children and adults in this Paramount-Nickelodeon film, which opens nationwide today.

Writer-director Steve Oedekerk delivers plenty of hilarious moments for children and adults in this Paramount-Nickelodeon film, which opens nationwide today.


Cow Otis (voiced by Kevin “The King of Queens” James) lives the good life on the farm: playing jokes, hanging with friends, watching TV. But his father, Ben (voiced by Sam Elliott), wants Otis to step up and assume some responsibility, like helping oversee farm security–particularly from the coyotes.


Otis shirks his duty until Ben can no longer rise to the challenge (the vegan farmer apparently has no role in safety). Then, Otis must discover his strengths and stand up for others.


“Barnyard” offers a classic coming-of-age story in 90-minute, PG style, with a good father-son narrative and more than potty humor.


Steve Oedekerk, best known for “Ace Ventura,” “Bruce Almighty” and the animated “Jimmy Neutron” franchise that lit up both small and big screens, had a challenge making “Barnyard” stand out among a dozen or so animated offerings in 2006. “Over the Hedge,” “Cars,” “Monster House,” “Ant Bully” and the upcoming “Charlotte’s Web” crowd the animation market, but Oedekerk’s vision deserves fair viewing because … he’s really funny.


In the movie, one of the farmer’s neighbors (who almost steals the show) thinks the noise she hears at the farm comes from raucous teens. After all, she knows “what a rave is.”


“These kids get all hopped up on Diet Coke and Jolly Ranchers,” she complains to her husband, who tells her she’s crazy. “Not crazy,” she responds–just “medicated for a chemical imbalance.”


It’s not teens but the animals who party when the humans aren’t looking. They jam and jive and hold a hoe-down, chanting for “Wild Mike” to set the dance standard and grooving to Shaggy’s “Boombastic” performed by an obese, bejeweled rat.


Joining Otis for comic relief are Pig the pig, Freddy the ferret and Pip the mouse, the latter of whom almost reincarnates Speedy Gonzales. Unfortunately, minority characteristics are relegated again to supporting and comedic roles.


Oedekerk’s strength lies in getting a funny idea on screen, whether it’s a 13-year-old dog celebrating a birthday, chickens throwing darts at a picture of Colonel Sanders, or a horse performing his Michael Flatley-inspired version of Lord of the Hoof.


The $50 million budget bought good voices (Courteney Cox, Wanda Sykes, Andie MacDowell and Danny Glover, in addition to James and Elliott) and decent animation. The CG work here won’t take the blue ribbon, but it doesn’t have to.


“Barnyard” offers young and old a good opportunity to “get their graze on,” as one character says, stuffing a traditional story about passing the torch and accepting responsibility with some laugh-out-loud situations.


To quote Pig, “Sooo-eeet!”


Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.


MPAA Rating: PG for some mild peril & rude humor. Reviewer’s Note: A central character dies after a coyote attack, and the coyotes themselves are fairly intense.


Director: Steve Oedekerk


Writer: Steve Oedekerk


Voices: Otis: Kevin James; Daisy: Courteney Cox; Ben: Sam Elliott; Miles: Danny Glover; Bessy: Wanda Sykes; Etta: Andie MacDowell.


The movie’s official Web site is here.


Read our feature on writer-director Steve Oedekerk.

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