Party-hard cow Otis (James) learns responsibility when he's suddenly put in charge of a barnyard of animals who can talk.
Male bovine with plastic pink female udders – either genital censorship taken to a ludicrous extreme or the writ-large fantasy of some cross-dressing studio executive, take your guess – are only the glaring surface of the problems in Barnyard, a shockingly crass grab for holiday pocket money that’s both infantile and endlessly patronising.Sure, a solid, clear narrative is useful for a young audience, but that’s no excuse for slack-jawed imagination. Barnyard’s story isn’t even adequate enough to be labelled formulaic. Livestock can talk. And party. To this genius premise, writer-director Oedekerk adds a responsibility plot almost as an afterthought, as his anatomically unfit hero defends the barn and – sort-of – grows up. The story, and even the de rigueur moralising, don’t matter, however: the film is rarely more than a feckless parade of feeble visual puns (human tipping, ride-on-men, ho ho), scatalogical jokes and loud, irritating thumps of sound and colour. This is, after all, from a director who made six movies that used the “hilarious” technique of talking thumbs to parody hit films. Sam Elliott’s stock patriarch aside, the voice acting in the film has to go down as some of the most horrible in the history of feature animation. Kevin James (Hitch, TV’s The King Of Queens) plays the hero, Otis, as a frat boy jerkwad, a cow whose change of heart seems to result largely from his need to beat up on malnourished coyotes. These supposedly evil predators just look like they need a good meal, and, after enduring the movie’s sickening saccharine chicken littles, you may wish them success in ripping those birds’ chirping heads right off. Otis’s buddies are so jock-annoying that it’s almost a relief when three pimply human brats go cow tipping. And broad stereotypes like a Mexican rat sidekick, a jive-talking cow sista and hillbilly farmers don’t do the mix any favours either. Sealing Barnyard’s fate is music so ring tone-scary – montages of banjo-riddled techno that the producers must have imagined kids to be down with – and a piece of product placement so unforgivably appalling that you might think the entire movie was funded by a cell phone company. Kids film or not, it’s hard to be sympathetic to a picture that shows so little respect to its audience. With an abundance of superior CG animation out there – Cars, Over The Hedge, hell, even Ice Age 2 is a relative masterpiece here – there’s no reason for anyone to take their kids to see this. Unless you want to really, really punish them.