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Barnyard

Unlike the Oscar-nominated "Jimmy Neutron," though, "Barnyard" (which Oedekerk wrote, directed and produced with Paul Marshal) faces a rash of animation competition this year and, quality-wise, it's not at the top of the haystack. While youngsters might enjoy the movie, more discerning tweens, teens and adults will not be as easily amused, and boxoffice prospects look modest, albeit followed by a long DVD shelf life.

The story is simple enough: When the farmer turns in for the night, the animals go wild. They walk on their hind legs, talk and party (the barn becomes a rockin' nightclub). Otis the Cow (voiced by Kevin James) is in a stalled adolescence to the consternation of his father, Ben (Sam Elliott). Ben is the animals' stern but caring leader and protector (keeping watch for preying coyotes over the barnyard each night from a hilltop). Otis is supposed to spell his dad's shifts but often makes excuses or shows up late after goofing off. When Ben gets severely injured protecting the henhouse from an attack, will Otis change his ways and be cow enough to fill his dad's hooves?

The computer-generated animation is painstakingly achieved, but it's hard to match the level set by Disney/Pixar. The coyotes, looking a lot like foxes, certainly succeed in terrifying sensitive viewers (especially, one would imagine, toddlers). Oddly, the many songs heard in the film often feel like snippets or are barely intelligible over the music track. The exception is Elliott's performance of Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne's "I Won't Back Down."

The few humans in the film are extraneous. The farmer's (Fred Tatasciore) screen time is negligible; there's a middle-aged neighbor couple (Maria Bamford and Oedekerk), whose shtick consists of a babbling wife and her tuned-out, TV-watching spouse; and there's a predictable sequence in which a kid (Oedekerk) gets paid back by the animals for a cow-tipping incident.

The animals' voices include Danny Glover (Miles the Mule), Andie MacDowell (Etta the Hen), Jeff Garcia (Pip the Mouse), Cam Clarke (Freddy the Ferret) and, as two barnyard newcomers, Courteney Cox (sweet, pregnant Daisy the Cow) and Wanda Sykes (her wisecracking pal Bessy the Cow). Special mention goes to Dom Irrera, who voices Duke the Dog and steals every scene he's in.

One nice touch is the sensitive handling of parenting for young viewers. As Otis and Daisy gradually grow closer, Otis (eventually) matures into a father figure, both for the barnyard and for Daisy's calf. Earlier, Ben had told his son that he is Otis' adopted dad and that he had found him as a baby and taken him in. In a similar vein, no mention is made of barnyard stranger Daisy's past or any romantic partner. She just shows up pregnant, allowing Otis, at the climactic birth of her calf, to very naturally slip into a paternal role for her (now their) gurgling newborn.

Screenwriter-director: Steve Oedekerk
Producers: Steve Oedekerk, Paul Marshal
Executive producers: Julia Pistor, Aaron Parry
Animation production: Omation Animation Studios
Music: John Debney
CG supervisors: Graham Clark, Tom Capizzi
Production designer: Philip A. Cruden
Editors: Billy Weber, Paul D. Calder
Cast:
 Otis the Cow: Kevin James
 Daisy the Cow: Courteney Cox
 Ben the Cow: Sam Elliott
 Miles the Mule: Danny Glover
 Bessy the Cow: Wanda Sykes
 Etta the Hen: Andie MacDowell
 Dag the Coyote: David Koechner
 Pip the Mouse: Jeff Garcia
 Freddy the Ferret: Cam Clarke
 Duke the Dog: Dom Irrera
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