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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Barnyard (review)

Udderly Ridiculous

It’s more than just goofy, Barnyard’s bizarre insistence that there is such a creature as a “male cow” and that such creatures sport udders. That’s what we have here: a barnyard full of CGI cows with udders who are nevertheless somehow male. Even though “male cow” is like saying “girls who are guys.” If there was a point that writer/director Steve Oedekerk was trying to make with his strange transsexual bovines, it’s lost on me. Perhaps there was no intended point, and it’s merely that Oedekerk (who wrote such idiocies as Bruce Almighty and Nutty Professor II: The Klumps) holds females of whatever species in general contempt. After all, he could have made a story about barnyard animals that took a fantastical spin off the reality of the barnyard, in which there could well be no steers or bulls at all. But then he couldn’t have a barnyard ruled by males. And then he couldn’t shoehorn in a line in which the animal who rules the barnyard — a male cow — insults his son — a male cow — by mistaking him for a girl cow, or, in other words, a cow.
“I remember when I used to sit out here with your sister,” Ben (the voice of Sam Elliott: Hulk, The Contender) says to his son, Otis (the voice of Kevin James: Hitch), a screwup who refuses to step up and take over the responsibility of ruling the barnyard. But the joke is: there is no sister. Ben is suggesting that his memories include good times with a son who is too feminine to be borne, and not a real man at all. This could be because he has udders. But then, so does Ben, and cows don’t get more masculine than Ben, or so we’re told. Sam Elliott with large breasts — there’s a sight you never wanna see.

Ugh. I need a shower — I want to be hosed down. This is not the feeling you generally want to be left with after seeing a children’s movie.

There’s more to Barnyard than male cows with udders — though not much more, mostly a lot of crudity that you probably wouldn’t want your kids to see, as well as a lot of overly sentimental schmaltz about fathers and sons that does nothing to illuminate the male of the species, human or bovine. But I simply cannot get past the male-cows-with-udders thing. It’s weird. Not a good weird, the kind of weird you want outta yer typical wacky animated movie. It’s an uncomfortable weird. It’s the kind of weird that demands that the “girl cows” wear bows in their “hair” in order to distinguish them from the guys, since their primary sexual characteristics have been strangely hijacked by the guys. It’s the kind of weird that results in uncouth cartoon “male cows” using the exclamation “Milk me!” as a would-be cute barnyard-lingo substitute for the human cry of “Fuck me!”, and I can’t even begin to count how many levels that’s wrong on. It’s the kind of weird that results in a moment in which the “charming sidekick” mouse character amuses himself by — *gulp* — bouncing on the udder of a male cow. It’s the kind of weird that results in party-animal bovines getting “drunk” on their own milk. Milk that has been expressed from the udders of male cows.

Ewwwwwww.

And more than ewwwww: impossible. Impossible in a way that cannot be dismissed with, “Well, it’s just a silly kids’ movie, and it’s not like cows can talk either.” This weirdness isn’t about fantasy — it’s not about sneaking a peek into a world we humans never see and imagining what it’s like when humans aren’t around. It’s about shoehorning a story that is really supposed to be about people into a realm where it simply does not work. The Lion King is, I am sorry to say, the closest analog to this distasteful disaster I can think of in the world of animated films, what with the father-son thing and the passing-on-the-ruling-of-the-roost thing and the hyenalike coyotes attacking the barnyard and so on. But The Lion King worked, for lots of reasons that have nothing to do with Barnyard, of course, but also because that flick let the lions keep their manes, didn’t emasculate them as part of its weird, unfunny big joke.

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MPAA: rated PG for some mild peril and rude humor

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
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  • The Cellar Dweller

    I can’t begin to tell you how the trailers of this have been bothering me. As well as creeping the crap out of me. My wife is sick of me yelling “COWS WITH UDDERS ARE FEMALES, YOU MORONS!!!” at the TV.

    First Pixar loses sight of what made their good animations work, what was good about their ‘the-secret-world-of…’ ideas, and just turns it into ‘talking cars are cool, just cuz’, and now the cheap imitators prove they NEVER understood it.

    Macho pig cows with udders….drinking their own milk…*shiver*

  • Christina Smith

    THANK YOU for taking so seriously the whole boy-bovines-with-udders problem in this movie. I’ve been harping on this since I first saw the trailer with my husband. He doesn’t think it’s any big deal. I think it’s a huge deal. Apart from the inescapably uncomfortable imagery and interactions that you point out in your review, a whole new generation of kids who goes to see this movie is going to raise its collective hand in class one day and declare that all bovines give milk. In other words, Steve Oedekerk has struck yet another blow for dumbing down the culture, which is decidely NOT what this country needs!

  • Lora

    A friend of a friend worked on this movie. He warned us about the male cows with udders thing in a “I’m very sorry about this but there’s nothing I can do” sort of way. He seemed really embarrassed about it.

  • kaduzy

    GREAT review! I said “Ewww” really loudly in the same place you wrote it! This movie is a totally disturbing (The trailers I mean, I have no intention of actually subjecting myself to it!) new low in kiddie pictures. I just don’t understand what kind of idiots they have working on these movies, that someone couldn’t point out the problem with “male cows” having udders, or the fact that there’s no such thing as a “male cow” in the first place! I guess the morons who wrote the script didn’t know that, and by then there were too many “hilarious” jokes that depended on the udders for them to change it.

    By the way, why is the main character’s love interest pregnant? Are we back in “Popeye” land now? LOL.

  • MaryAnn Johanson

    Oh, the pregnant cow! Yeah, that was bizarre, too. I loved how the film made a point of the fact that she was “married” but that her “husband” was now dead.

    Married cows. Hilarious. Not.

  • buzzy

    Your review is 100% on the money — and probably exactly the review they were expecting and hoping for. This male cow issue is the only reason anyone would talk about this movie, which hints at the apartied like atmosphere against women in hollywood.

    Ask your self these questions:

    Why does every animated movie have a dozen male voices and one, maybe two females? (Ice Age, Cars, Robots, etc) Why to male charactors outnumber female charactors in nearly every movie and TV series? Why is the “default” in hollywood “35 year old straight white male — preferably named Jack”? Why are the other charactors described by the way in which the differ from the “default”? — the “crazy” guy, the “old” guy, the “smart” guy, the “black” guy, the “handicapped” guy, the “female”? Why is it that no one complains about this?

    And don’t hold up “The Lion King” as something to strive for — a movie that says you are born to be what you are born to be. Men must be rulers, women must help them, antelope must be eaten, etc. This was the most racist and sexist propaganda film I’ve ever seen. A female lion couldn’t rule? What race do you suppose the hyenas represented in the authors mind?

    I knew the writer of Barnyard years ago. He hates women. Fine. Why an entire industry gladly embraces this crap — I don’t know. 50 years ago everyone flocked to see romances and romantic comedy, but now, the industry actively discourages men from going to these films by labeling them “chick-flicks”, shaming those who might like a nice Meg Ryan film. They don’t want those films to make money because they don’t want to have to greenlight them because they don’t want to have to deal with women other than ex-wives and hookers. Amazingly, if you take the time to look into the numbers, projects which either have females in equal numbers or in which the central charactor is female make more money in relationship to their cost — by a very large percentage. But some things are more important than making money to the sexist, racist white men running hollywood. The Mel Gibsons are *not* the bigger problem.

    It hasn’t always been like this. Barnyard is a red flag. It’s the inevitable result of letting the hatred of women in hollywood — supposedly a liberal bastion — go unchecked with a shrug of “boys will be boys”.

    I don’t think its funny. I don’t think it’s cute. As a straight white man, to the degree that my existance contributes to this, to the degree that I accept my role of “lottery winner by birthright”, I appologize. I am truly ashamed and humiliated by the behavior of the white men in power and that I have done nothing about it but write letters like this.

  • Edward Virtually

    A likely reason for the “male cows” is to avoid the controversy that more accurate rendering of male bovines would cause. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe dealt with the problem by rendering the male animals sans “their primary sexual characteristics”. Neither is realistic. Neutered lions don’t have manes. Bulls don’t have udders. The movie producers are concerned with marketability, not accuracy. I would guess research suggested rendering the male bovines as females was more marketable that rendering them as steers or bulls. Probably because the lack of udders would be very obvious and would cause children to ask parents embarassing questions about the difference.

  • MaryAnn

    So, even in the animal kingdom, it’s acceptable for females to be nude, but not males. Great.

    “A female lion couldn’t rule?”

    Who says female lions don’t rule? Perhaps it is the females who allow the one “alpha” male to hang out with them — perhaps it is their tolerance of his presence that should be considered the “rule.”

    But if you’re saying “Why couldn’t a female lion hold the position of a male lion in a pride?” then the answer is that that doesn’t happen in lion society. I’m not saying that Hollywood isn’t sexist, just that a movie about a female lion in the position of a male would probably be ridiculous for similar reasons that *Barnyard* is ridiculous. We don’t have to pretend that nature is other than it is in order NOT to be sexist.

  • mooo

    The first poster’s critique is way off and also undeciphably incoherent.
    To begin with, this is a full featured animated film, based on fantasy as with most animated cartoons.

    There is only one other alternative, by the way, to way, to depict the male cows. This I see is the most tasteful way of uni-sexing the image of cows/bovines. Think of the aslternative on the kiddie film.
    I think this film was graphically marvelous, with its Gary Larson inspired imagery.

    I liked it better than the Lion King.

    I think that some reviwers must work for the FDA, as the film is giving a strong message about vegetarianism. I see no other reviewer included this in their commenting.

    The film was also vey funny. I saw it twice and and want to see it again with a friend. Maybe the cow comments on ‘New World Order’ shook some people up , enough to say that this film wasn’t funny, and deter deterring people from seeing some obvious truths about the world as it is today.

  • mooo

    PLease overlook the typing errors on the above post..there is no edict on this..and when I was typing part of the the screen started to disappear????I will try and get back to this post….

  • MaryAnn Johanson

    “There is only one other alternative, by the way, to way, to depict the male cows.”

    Are you suggesting that there is something wrong or distastful or yucky or immoral about the male body, but not about the female, of any species? That it’s okay to offer up cartoonish depictions of breasts (or udders) but not penises?

    But there is a third alternative to cartoon penises: smooth underbellies. The “male cows” could have been depicted without udders OR penises, like most cartoon animals are. The decision to create the weird Frankensteinian monsters of “male cows” had to have been deliberate. What point they writer/director was trying to make with this decision continues to be beyond me.

  • mooo

    I am not saying this my dear, but I can sense that there is somewhere even in this most corrupt times, that putting a penis and balls on the male cow somehow wont pass the censors test for childrens movies. It is not of my doing…go figure the world out or call the so-called powers that be that are incharge????Maybe they got a little shook up about the’New World Order’ being mentioned. It might get people to thinking..Go look up NEW World Order on google. Also look up Rockefeller and David Rockefeller.Nobody can be nominated for anything without their consent which includes presidents, movies, etc…..

  • mooo

    and another thing why are some jerks calling this movie dumb??/
    I thought it was exceedingly clever…the computer animated visual effects were breathtaking as was the backdrop scenery…some lessons and morals too,to be presented to youthful minds…plenty of fun songs and dance to keep you-all humming…up to the times scenerios of what goes on in private residences…some reality implanted on a fantasy world…which makes us think…which one is more real??/

  • mooo

    I might add in summary that there are some some strong startling statements of social situations that such writers and reviewers such as Carina Chocano have failed to neglect.
    I thought the movie was wonderful and fun and refreshing , and I really don’t know why reviewers such as Carina Chocano are blasting it….later…

  • MaryAnn Johanson

    Here’s a tip, Moo: You don’t do yourself any favors when you call “jerks” those whose opinion differs from yours.

    Your suggestion that David Rockefeller is responsible for the lack of depiction of penises in children’s movies is an interesting one, though. Did he also decree that breasts are okay for tender young eyes?

  • mooo

    Forgive me Mary Ann I don’t know all the answers ..but I have heard that old David does rule the roost!!!!
    I NEVER suggested that old David (New World Order) Rockefeller was responisible for the lack of body parts being shown. But he does have a steanglehold on the oil companies hidden interest non-withstanding…think about it..who has the moola usuually has their way…his is on the freeway…

  • MaryAnn Johanson

    And what does that have to do with male cows sporting udders?

  • mooo

    Hello mary Ann,

    lets not run ourselves ragged going in circles…I have read that the academy award winners are usuually decided by people on the top, as is the final say so of who is going to be prez (remember the last 2 elections) also what kind of additives are put in your food, what you read in the paper, what is shown on tv…there is only one family on top of the rockefeller dynasty and that is the rothschilds… please bear with my typing the page is disappearing again..I cannnot correc mistakes..later

  • Daphne

    I saw the movie with my 4 yr old and 2 and a half year old twins…mostly because the newspaper review said “irreverent” and there was no mention of violence. I was extremely dismayed by the sexism (as Mary Ann and Buzz point out) and also the racism of having the whole species of cayotes (who apparently live in a ghetto, are poor and hungry–as is apparent by their skinniness–and are rapists…of course all the better for the patriach to defend the pure and innocent hens from getting raped) be irredemably bad without understanding anything from their perspective. Also, the movie was violent in the worst sort of way…the good guy gets to be good because he “stood up” (i.e., violently confronted and vanquished) to the bad guys. I’ve talked to my 4 year old about some endings I would have liked much better…all the animals decide that they don’t need a leader and that they can all contribute to deciding how best to defend the farm, and it turns out different animals have different perspectives and ideas on this. The “girl” cow (whose virtue is defined by believing in the party cow) becomes esteemed in the community because she’s obviously mature and insightful. Then they decide to talk to the cayotes to find out how they can stop them from killing the hens. They realize that they have a lot of food and comforts on the farm, and if they share with the cayotes and bring them into their community, they wont have to fight them. The cayotes, in turn, can make valuable contributions to the farm. My daughter isn’t old enough to understand that film is a cultural production that can be critically assessed. “But Mommy…the cayotes are bad” she keeps asserting.

    This is my first feature film with kids and I don’t want to repeat this mistake. Does anyone know a place to read feminist or critical reviews of children’s films?

  • Frieda

    I saw this film with my 5-year-old yesterday. I couldn’t get past the male cows with udders either. It didn’t bother my daughter, but it bothered me for the whole film. (Her big comment was that she liked Daisy, the girl cow.) It seemed as if the movie was based on those cute Halloween cow costumes that look so hilariously vulgar when you stand up and the udders stick out. Ha, ha. Anyway, I felt compelled to explain to my daughter that in real life boy cows are not cows, that they have no udders, etc.

    Another error in the film, there is a woman with knitting needles making a lace doily that would not be created with knitting needles. It would require crochet hooks, or possibly a tatting spool.

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