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.
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.