Used to be that only the artists who were truly dedicated to advancing the artistry of computer graphics were the ones who could enjoy the spoils. I'm talking about Pixar, of course, and while I certainly don't think that studio deserves to corner the whole entire "CGI Movie" market, it takes only a casual glance through a 2006 multiplex to see how the other studios are trying to keep up -- and, in most cases, failing.
Between January and December of 2006, parents were offered Hoodwinked (Weinsteins), Ice Age 2 (Fox), The Wild (Disney), Over the Hedge (DreamWorks), The Ant Bully (Warner Bros), Barnyard (Paramount), Open Season (Sony), Flushed Away (DreamWorks), and Happy Feet (Warner Bros). It's as if every studio suit went to see Madagascar last year and were all hit by a stunning epiphany at the same time: Hey, kids love animals! Especially when they talk and sing and go on adventures! Let's all make our own version!
And while I'm a huge animation buff and was quite looking forward to this particular sample, I must admit that Steve Oedekerk's Barnyard is arguably the very weakest CGI cartoon to hit the screens since Toy Story kick-started the genre back in 1995. There's nothing here that your kids haven't seen before -- and much funnier. The whole flick feels like an opportunistic rush job, one of those "hey, these are profitable so let's bang one out!" projects inspires very little passion or effort from the computer technicians asked to slap the thing together.
It's a generally plotless tale of a hard-partying young cow who must learn the importance of responsibility when his adopted Daddy kicks the can -- but really it's all about bad puns, limp slapstick, generic jokes and an overall sense of lazy disinterest. Writer/director Steve Oedekerk might have his name on a bunch of profitable screenplays (Ace Ventura, The Nutty Professor, Bruce Almighty), but based on what I've seen in his Barnyard and Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, the guy's about as good a director as I am a stripper.
The voice cast is a mixed bag of recognizable voices and actors who seem to be shooting for vocal anonymity: Kevin James, Courteney Cox, Sam Elliott, Wanda Sykes, etc. That kinda thing. Nobody comes close to "stealing a scene" or rising above the dim-bulb comedy schtick -- and when Barnyard aims for pathos during its endless third act, the result is even less enjoyable.
So yeah, a kid might like it, but I guarantee that kid's got much better movies to spend his time on.
Video: The anamorphic widescreen transfer is suitably clean and vibrant; it's the animation that starts to feel bland after about nine minutes.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English / French) or DD 2.0 (English only). Subtitles are available in English and Spanish. Audio quality is precisely what you'd expect from a Paramount release: Good stuff.
First up is an audio commentary with writer/director Steve Oedekerk, producer Paul Marshal, production designer TJ Sullivan, animation supervisor Todd Grimes, and "texture and look developer" Dimitri Joannides. It's a pretty desperately jokey commentary track, mainly thanks to Oedekerk's silly noises and overt "wackiness."
Boogying in the Barn (5:22) takes a look at the country rock music written for the flick. The North Mississippi All-Stars are the ones who earned the gig, and the band members share their thoughts about writing songs for pigs, dogs, cows and kids.
Utter Talent: Voice of Barnyard (10:35) focuses on the voice cast: Oedekerk, Andie McDowell, Wanda Sykes, Courteney Cox, Sam Elliott, and Kevin James discuss the fine art of speaking directly into a microphone.
An Animator's Life (12:18) has input from Oedekerk, technical director Chris Evans, production designer Philip Cruden, animation supervisor TJ Sullivan, development supervisor Dimitri Joannides, animation supervisor Todd Grimes, and a handful of others. This is actually a pretty nifty look at the filmmaking process for the kids out there who actually care about how these flicks get made.
Method Acting with Kevin James (2:03) is a little bit of silliness between the comedian and some cows.
Also included on the platter are two music videos, seven deleted scenes (with optional commentary), the theatrical trailer, a Nick On-Air Campaign promo, a Barnyard THQ game trailer, some DVD-ROM stuff, and some previews for Charlotte's Web, Over the Hedge, Nacho Libre, and the Barnyard TV series.
The animation is perfectly colorful and the voice actors earn their paychecks, but it's blatantly obvious that this thing started production without a screenplay -- and hit the screens without a plot.