Down on the farm, a dutiful old milk cow named Ben (yes, he is named Ben) has a hard time convincing his devil-may-care son, Otis, to quit goofing around and accept responsibility. It's time for the young carouser to grow up. He needs to set an example for his peers by obeying the rules of the barnyard, which include remaining on all fours in the presence of humans.
But Otis throws caution to the wind. That fun-loving spirit actually endears him to the other animals, even if his recklessness threatens to blow their cover. So it's up to Ben to preserve order until Otis matures enough to adopt his leadership style and protect rodent, swine and foul from vicious predators. The learning curve is short. A coyote attack forces Otis to come of age almost overnight. This causes a crisis of confidence within him. It also leaves his friends vulnerable to the coyotes. Can Otis put his old ways behind him and take his father's place?
Otis learns the hard way that life isn't one big party. His father tells him he loves him and advises, "A strong man stands up for himself. A stronger man stands up for others." Ben practices what he preaches, keeping watch for predators and intervening when they pounce on helpless poultry. Eventually, Otis puts his own life on the line in similar fashion.
Daisy, a sweet new arrival to the farm, tells Otis she has faith in him and notes, "The best leader isn't the biggest or the strongest. The best leader is the one who cares the most." Ben shares that fatherhood changed his life for the better, and Otis elects to honor his dad by emulating him. When Daisy gives birth to the calf she's been carrying, Otis immediately becomes paternal and a family is formed (we learn that Otis was similarly adopted by Ben, who embraced the child and learned responsibility).
The coyote threat brings the whole barnyard together and teamwork results in victory. Otis and Ben both show mercy to their foe, and Otis refuses to sell out his friends.
A donkey says of the kind farmer, "He's a vegan, God bless him." Fumbling for an excuse to remain hidden and avoid human contact, Otis tells a guy offering him assistance, "It's against my religion. I'm a ... No-Helpian." A lyric from Ben's theme song (Tom Petty's 1989 hit "I Won't Back Down," which grows increasingly awkward the more it's played) mentions standing "at the gates of hell." A joyride is deemed the animal "sin of sins."
Animals take an innocent romantic interest in each other. At a bar (for humans), the camera pans a biker chick in a low-cut top. A song by the Starlight Mints that pops up during the closing credits mounds up just enough below-kids'-radar double entendres to cross the line from "what in the world is that guy singing about?" to "oh, I wish I hadn't just heard that."
There's a lot of slapstick humor, with characters getting tossed around or whacked on the head. An extended scene finds a donkey repeatedly knocking the farmer unconscious with violent kicks in an attempt to cloud his memory after the man sees the animals standing around talking. Food-chain jokes refer to animals eating one another.
Less comical are the coyote attacks. Ben dies defending the henhouse. Later, the varmints threaten to slaughter all of the livestock. They kidnap and prepare to devour several chickens, including a cute baby chick. A full-blown smackdown ensues with punching, kicking and biting. Daisy relates how her herd���including her husband—died in a flash-flood. A cow sarcastically says of a faceless furball, "Let's kill it." A rat gets an electric shock. A car crashes (no injuries).
Crude or Profane Language
Language gets no worse than the expressions "heck," "geez," "shut up" and "my gosh," though a critter is interrupted en route to a crudity ("You're gonna have an extra [hoof] right up your...").
Drug and Alcohol Content
A human couch potato nurses what appears to be a can of beer, and later cracks open a new six-pack. Bikers hang out in a bar. The barnyard equivalent of a tavern finds animals drinking pitchers of milk as if it were brew, and a critter staggers drunkenly after imbibing directly from a cask labeled "milk and honey." The obscure milk-as-alcohol metaphor appears again when Otis and some ethnic Jersey cows kick up their hooves by joy-riding in a neighbor's car. A woman explains that she is "medicated for a chemical imbalance." A man tells his hyper son, "No more Red Bull."
Other Negative Elements
A spoiled brat taunts animals and is disrespectful to his mother behind her back. His pants slide down, exposing part of his backside. A nervous mouse excretes tiny pellets on a pig's head. Animals call Otis "fat" and mock a dog for drinking out of the toilet. A montage of carousing critters includes glimpses of gambling (dice and poker). A police officer makes a wisecrack about strip-searching rowdy adolescents. The animals hotwire and trash a neighbor's car during a lark that turns into a high-speed chase.
Writer/director Steve Oedekerk does a nice job of staging some comic bits about a cow who has a frat-boy mentality and a posse of wild party animals. There's the bovines who give a cow-tipper a taste of his own medicine. Gophers who deal in human contraband. The dog who, try as he might, can't resist chasing a ball. Funny stuff. However, the filmmaker's derivative stab at connecting such moments feels emotionally flat and uninspired. Maybe that's because Barnyard's narrative has been sewn together Frankenstein-style from other movies. You can almost hear a maniacal Oedekerk in the editing room proclaiming, "It's alive!"—punctuated by a sinister thunderclap.
The first 10 minutes—from the team meeting to rules about how animals are expected to dumb down their act in the presence of humans—reek of Toy Story. Then Ben, our hero's father figure, dispenses a profound moral nugget before a fatal attack (caused in part by said hero's selfishness) leaves him dying in the protagonist's arms as his words echo, "With great power comes great responsibil—" No, wait. That was Spider-Man. Here the words are different, but the rest is pretty much identical. And what about the whole I-can't-take-my-father's-place-in-the-circle-of-life thing? Otis' crisis of confidence is straight out of The Lion King, right down to the final coyote showdown, a newborn baby and a Rafiki-like donkey, all of which could have Disney's lawyers sharpening their pencils.
Of course, kids in the audience laughed heartily at the zany hijinks, slapstick comedy and crazy (if forgettable) characters, not bothered a bit by the movie's lack of originality. Seeing it through their eyes made me enjoy it more than I otherwise would have. In addition, their enthusiasm almost helped me get past the creepy fact that, in Oedekerk's world, male cows have udders and aren't called bulls. And while their mood didn't make me completely forget about a handful of crass scenes, a few disrespectful comments and a bit of "drinking," it did make me glad that Barnyard at least tries to teach lessons about accepting responsibility, defending others and the powerful bond between father and son.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
The voices of Kevin James as Otis; Courteney Cox as Daisy; David Koechner as Dag; Jeffrey Garcia as Pip; Andie MacDowell as Etta; Wanda Sykes as Bessy; Danny Glover as Miles; Sam Elliott as Ben
Steve Oedekerk ( Kung Pow!: Enter the Fist)