Sunday, September 17, 2006

9/17: Sunday: You'll believe a cow can surf

Sunday night, Sept 17, 2006

Sunday is a day on which I don’t get much done. It’s football day. It’s not totally wasted, I spend the time while I’m watching the games going through my newspaper clippings, of which I’ve got tons (I clip news on space exploration, oceanography, dinosaurs, art and art theft, government stupidity at the local, state and national level, etc. etc.)

So all I’ve done for the blog today is my website suggestion and my review of The Barnyard.

1) Website

The website for today is:

This is a commercial site - everything of science fiction interest - from books to movies to tv shows to premiums to toys to games to pages of art, seems to be on sale here. I’ve never bought anything from them, but I’ve never heard of any problems with people not getting what they order. (And make sure you click on the radio in the nav bar to the left of the page to listen to an episode of Space Patrol.

2) Reviews: Barnyard

The only thing I knew about Barnyard going in was that all the male cows - or bulls as they correctly should be called - had udders. Well, it didn’t take too long before the plot of the movie became apparent - it was a less pretentious version of The Lion King. In that movie, Simba the lion is king of the jungle, in Barnyard Otis the male cow (he’s a male, he’s got udders, so he must be a male cow) is ‘king’ of the barnyard.

Yes, there were a few amusing bits. The opening bit where Otis and his friends surf on a makeshift surfboard over the valleys was funny. Three snotty kids "tip" a cow, and then walk off thinking they're "all that", so Otis and his friends break into the kid's bedroom while he's sleeping and "tip" him...

But overall I found it more unpleasant than anything else.

All of the animals at the Barnyard - cows, chickens, mules, dogs - can speak English, walk on their hind legs, drive cars and ride motorcycles. They act like normal animals when the farmer is around, but as soon as he goes away, they start to play. All except Ben (played by Sam Elliot) a cow who is the self-appointed guardian of the Barnyard, and who takes his responsibilities seriously. His son (adopted) Otis, is on the other hand a party animal, who has no intention of stepping into his father’s hooves.

That night, after the farmer’s gone to bed, the animals have a party in the barn. Ben is out on a hilltop watching over his domain. Otis is supposed to relieve him, but persuades Ben to take his shift so that he can go dancing at the party. While Otis is living it up and trying to impress a new female cow (pregnant) who has arrived at the Barnyard, a pack of coyotes attack the chicken house. Ben drives them off, but is killed in the process.

All the animals look to Otis to be their leader now, but he does not feel himself worthy. Nor does he want to be the leader. Then the coyotes return, and the decision is taken out of his hooves.

While lots of kids in the audience certainly seemed to like the movie - there was lots and lots of laughter every time Otis (or Ben) hit one of the coyotes with a tree branch, I found it rather unpleasant most of the time. There were a couple of laughs for adults in the movie, I don’t deny it, but most of it was just painful to watch. (The animation was good - although the udders looked stupid, even on the cows. The female ones, that is.)

First there was the time element. Ben dies, and is buried. (The farmer is a vegan, and apparently maintains his farm as a refuge for animals of all kinds.) All of the animals pay a visit to the grave to mourn him, but that night they’re in the barn once more, partying hearty as if nothing had happened. Short grieving time.

Prior to this, in the daytime, the animals hold a meeting to decide who will be their new leader - which apparently consists of sitting out on the hilltop all the time looking out for the coyotes while every other single animal in the Barnyard enjoys him or herself. (And one wonders why the farmer didn’t take steps to protect the farm, as he must have known from Ben’s mauled body that he was killed by the coyotes.)

Anyway, the dog volunteers, but is turned down. Everyone wants Otis, because of his wild ways. They look forward to his idea of discipline, which they think will be a lot more lenient than Ben’s. Otis enters the barn and is cajoled into dancing even though it’s broad daylight. Then...the farmer walks by and sees them. The mule kicks him in the head and knocks him unconscious.

Should the farmer be killed or shouldn’t he? That seems to actually be the ethical question discussed by the animals. Each time the farmer regains consciousness the mule kicks him again - the kids got a good laugh out of this. But Otis persuades his friends that the farmer has been good to them - so they drag him out under a tree, break a branch and lay it over him, and put the book Charlotte’s Web on his lap, so that he can believe he got hit on the head accidently and had a dream. Of course there’s another mule kick and a gratuitous hit by an apple, which did amuse the kids...

The coyotes, who are drawn as skeletal creatures with rat-like, pointed noises, go after a rabbit later that night. Otis is standing guard on the hilltop while the party goes on in the barn (again, this is like, one day after Ben’s death) and chases after them. But when he reaches the coyotes they turn on him and he freezes, too frightened to move. Dag, the head coyote, spells it out for Otis. The coyotes will visit the farm every night and take a few animals, and Otis will look the other way. Dag delivers a few more words of contempt for the frightened cow, and then the coyotes leave.

Otis decides to run away. He doesn’t believe he can protect the barnyard. But, he doesn’t tell his friends why he’s leaving. So this is where I have another problem with the film. Of course Otis has to run away, so that he can have an epiphany later on - as you know he will. But Daisy comes to him and asks why he’s leaving. He won’t tell her. “I still believe in you,” she says, and that’s what frosted me. All she knows about this cow (male) is that he likes to party, and that he’s running away from the barnyard without explaining why, and yet she “believes” in him. What's to “believes” in???

However, unlike The Lion King, Otis doesn’t actually have the time to run away. The coyotes have played a trick on him - they have raided the farm during the day and made off with a few chickens and Maddie (a cute little baby chick). Otis has always had a fond spot for Maddie, so he straightens his shoulders and decides he’s going to go save them. Alone. Despite the fact that his father died when he fought the coyotes on his own, Otis is going to go rescue them single-handed.

He arrives at the coyote’s camp, a used car lot, where they’re gathered around an iron pot suspended over a raging fire. The chickens are tied up...preparatory to being cooked before being eaten. Otis arrives, there’s a fight, Otis is defeated. Dag the coyote plucks up cute little Maddie and is about to eat her (alive!) when the calvary arrives - Otis’ 3 joy-riding cow buddies, a mule with a kick like a, well, like a mule, the pig, the mouse, and an indeterminate carnivorous animal (who has sworn off flesh because the animals are his friends.). These save the day.

But the movie doesn’t end there. The calvary reveals that when they left the barnyard Daisy had gone into labor. So the cows and other animals steal a bunch of motorcycles and ride like the wind to the barnyard. Daisy is lying in a stall with a blanket over her. She gives birth to a son (with udders, of course) whom she will call Ben. Otis promises his friends that he’ll never leave the barnyard.

So there’s a couple of messages. One is - live up to your responsibilities. Secondly, just because you feel like you’re “all that,” don’t go off alone to fight a pack of coyotes with sharp teeth. Let your friends come along to help you. (And of course, all the animals who came to help were male - albeit the cows were males with udders...)

There was a third message - and I wonder if it was intentional or just accidental. As I mentioned earlier, all the animals in the barnyard seem to spend every night partying, while one animal sits on a hilltop, protecting them. It’d be a lot easier to protect them if a couple of other animals took it upon themselves to participate in their defense. But perhaps it's echoing the spirit of the times, when most people want to live their own lives without thinking too much about what goes on around them, how they're kept safe, etc. etc.

After seeing the movie, I did a google search on “cows with udders” and found lots of blog and newsgroups comments about the stupidity of having bulls with female mammary glands. Several of them were amusing. One writer pointed out that she didn’t think the creator of the film, Steve Oedekerk, had a very high opinion of women. He’s the guy who did Bruce Almighty, in which Jim Carrey used his powers to increase women’s breast sizes, etc. I had gotten this idea as well.

There’s a couple of “comedy relief” characters in the film, two humans who live in the next house over. One is a woman who snoops on her neighbor the farmer, the other is her husband who sits apparently watching TV all the time, drinking bear, and talking monosyllabically. So okay, it’s a takeoff on nosy neighbors, not a problem, but there’s a scene where the woman, who is wearing a very tight dress, fills up the entire screen, first from her breasts and then as she turns her buttocks fill the screen.

Oedekerk, when asked why the bulls have udders, said that he thinks udders are funny. Apparently he thinks women’ buttocks are funny, also. But, he’s wrong.

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