Steve Oedekerk hopes his new movie, “Barnyard,” will succeed for audiences when it hits theaters Aug. 4.
“Succeeding for an audience” or “landing for an audience” was a notion the 44-year-old writer-producer-director referenced repeatedly in a recent phone interview with EthicsDaily.com. It’s a notion Oedekerk knows a lot about.
If Oedekerk’s name doesn’t ring a bell, his work will.
The Southern California native collaborated with Jim Carrey for “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” and “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls” in 1994 and 1995. He also wrote “The Nutty Professor,” “Patch Adams,” “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius” and “Bruce Almighty.”
All told, his projects have earned more than $1.5 billion worldwide. (His company, O Entertainment, also produces a series of hilarious “Thumbmation” parodies.)
“Barnyard” follows the fortunes of Otis the cow and his mates on a farm, where Otis hopes never to assume responsibility and grow up. He’d rather pull pranks with his friends: Pip the mouse, Freddy the ferret, Peck the rooster and Pig the pig. But Ben, Otis’ father, hopes all this will change.
Oedekerk signed up Kevin James, Sam Elliott, Courteney Cox, Danny Glover and Wanda Sykes to lend their voices to this coming-of-age story whose idea began almost 20 years ago.
Oedekerk was at a friend’s house, and the friend’s dog would not stop staring at him. Oedekerk, ever the creative mind, imagined the dog would stand up on two legs and shout, “Man, it’s about time that dude left,” once Oedekerk left the room.
The idea never left Oedekerk, who kept building a resume and looking for an opportunity to put the idea in play. The time finally came, and now “Barnyard” will bow Aug. 4. It’s budget: roughly $50 million, which Oedekerk said was roughly half of a DreamWorks animated picture budget or one-third that of a Pixar film.
When Pixar hit pay-dirt with the “Toy Story” franchise, “Everybody jumped in wanting to do CG,” said Oedekerk. “CG” is short for CGI, or “computer-generated imagery,” which his how most “animated” features are now produced.
Oedekerk, whose “Jimmy Neutron” received a Best Animated Film Academy Award nomination in 2002, certainly knows something about animation.
He said CG isn’t a “magic tool.” People still get “bad, average and great” animated films. But he celebrated the number of animated films because it gives more artists more work.
“I approached ‘Barnyard’ no differently than anything else I’ve ever worked on,” said Oedekerk. He concentrates on story first, adding that “the funny stuff is icing on the cake.”
The dynamics between Otis and Ben in “Barnyard” are “incredibly close” to Oedekerk’s own family dynamics, though “it wasn’t intended.”
Oedekerk said he was halfway through the script and realized, “This is me and my dad.”
Of course, he also realized it was “a lot of people and their dad,” and therein lies its appeal. Otis, voiced by Kevin James (“King of Queens”), is the perennial goof-off, never thinking of others.
He must learn, as his father tries to teach him, that “a strong man stands up for himself, a stronger man stands up for others.”
Oedekerk, father of two, said he came up with that line to encapsulate one of life’s most important lessons. That’s part of the “fun, challenge and horror of writing,” he said.
Oedekerk said kids will enjoy the movie’s characters, even as a “nice message” takes the day. He also hopes parents will see past the zaniness highlighted in the trailers and realize there’s a story on this farm.
“There’s a heck of a lot more emotional content than our marketing campaign leads on,” said Oedekerk. That’s what he hopes will “land” with audiences, and that’s what he’s spent years working on.
“I do take very seriously trying to nail a film for an audience,” said Oedekerk. “If you succeed for an audience, the commerce takes care of itself.”
He would know.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
The movie’s official Web site is here.