Barnyard Steve Oedekirk

This year’s umpteenth animal animation adventure is pretty much the runt of the litter, despite laboured attempts to seem more irreverent than its crowded company. Steve James lends his voice to Otis, a fun-loving cow with big hooves to fill; his father, Ben (Sam Elliott), is the leader who sees to it that no human guesses the animals’ secret sentience and that no coyote makes off with a barn member. Unfortunately, the coyotes overwhelm and kill poor Ben, meaning his ne’er-do-well son has to pick up the slack. But is he ready to lead the farm? And will the menace of cow tipping ever be avenged? The film initially gets points for not being as saccharine as its competition but squanders them when it comes out that the script isn’t even remotely funny. Obvious jokes reversing animal-human relations ("Manabunga!”) jostle for position with random "party animal” bits that are forced rather than funny. Thus the stage has been set for the tender moral of the story to be dished out without a shred of conviction. As well, the gags are so half-hearted that you can’t buy the story that they’ve been grafted onto. And the animation is so rigid and artless that the whole thing comes across as stiff and airless, to say nothing about that fact that the whole production team didn’t realise that male cows don’t have udders. Extras include a joke-y but informative commentary with director Steve Oedekirk, producer Paul Marshal and various crew members, limp featurettes about the cast, the animation, the music and Steve James getting "method” with some real cows, two music videos, the Nickelodeon ad campaign, and some DVD-ROM games, including a comic book creator. (Paramount)