“For Steve, this is real life – he writes about the things that kids go through and witness. For him, it’s not an imaginary world – it’s real.”
So says actress Courteney Cox of writer/director Steve Oedekerk’s Barnyard conception. Indeed, it would seem that Steve is a man who connects with kids when it comes to entertainment. Co-creator of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Steve addresses issues kids relate to. In his new film, Barnyard, he uses animals with a secret life as a metaphor concerning how children see the world and often feel overlooked. It also satirizes man and examines coming-of-age concepts. Not bad for a film where cows get revenge on nasty bullies by boy tipping.
“It’s a simple story about a guy and his dad and the family around them, and whether he’s going to step up and accept responsibility or be a goof-off his whole life. Come to think of it, that’s very much like my life growing up.”
In Barnyard, Otis (voiced by Kevin James) is a carefree party cow who enjoys singing, dancing and playing tricks on humans. Unlike his more serious father, Ben (voiced by Sam Elliott), the respected patriarch of the farm, Otis is unconcerned with life responsibilities. Ben’s motto: “A strong man stands up for himself; a stronger man stands up for others.” Otis doesn’t get that until tragedy strikes, whereupon he is forced to consider his dad’s proverb.
Knowing that the action takes place on a farm, a fitting place for the type of scatological humor so prevalent in adolescent comedies, I asked the filmmaker if I should expect a lot of cow pie crudity.
“No. I’ve gotten a lowbrow attachment from some people by association with the genre. I do have that one scene in The Nutty Professor where the family is sitting around the table, taking flatulence humor to the extreme. But that’s the only one I’ve ever written.”
So there wasn’t anything like that in Ace Ventura?
“The very first Ace Ventura was written in a time when we didn’t know that Jim (Carrey) was going to become an icon for 5- and 6-year-olds. I found out after that film that parents were actually letting their kids watch it. And that’s a real PG-13. That was my first lesson in the fact that Hollywood markets PG-13s to little kids and parents let their little ones watch them. That affected me. So if you look at the second Ace Ventura, you’ll see that it is much softer in tone. Believe me, I’ll be sitting in a movie and there will be this gratuitous flatulence joke and I’ll lean over to my wife and say ‘that’s so worn out.’
“The only reason I put it in The Nutty Professor is because it was such an explosively funny scene and it worked really well. I don’t’ know if that makes it better in any way, I wouldn’t make that claim. I’ve written a lot of comedy and a lot of different tones of comedy. I’ve done everything from really weird to innate, like in Kung Pow. Whereas, in Patch Addams or Bruce Almighty, it’s the emotional content that makes the film and the jokes are bonuses. But, as a general rule, I hold crudity with the same disdain as you."
Once again addressing Barnyard, Steve reflected, “The concept of animals with a secret life hit me about twenty years ago. I was at a friend’s house and his dog was staring at me. It was the weirdest feeling, because his eyes were locked with mine. About ten minutes later I left the room and this image popped into my head of him saying, ‘Ah, I thought that guy would never leave.’ And then he and the cat would start playing poker. So that’s the concept. The theme concerns coming-of-age. In fact, about halfway through writing the script, I realized this was me and my dad. About three-quarters of the way through, I realized this was a lot of people and their dads. It’s about family and what makes a family. And that moment where God sort of starts making himself present, if you’ve been closing him out.
“At some point a guy has some decisions to make. He begins to realize it’s not just about him. And he begins to question, ‘What am I supposed to be doing here.’ Finally, he gets it, he understands that some of the fun we give up as kids is replaced by a bigger fun. A more fulfilling joy as we begin to care about others.”
Taking the opportunity of dialoguing with a filmmaker, I brought up the frequent use of profanity (the misuse of God’s name) in movies.
“I don’t do it. I personally have a thing against it. I was raised Catholic, I went to Catholic school for twelve years, but I think the first time I cracked open a Bible was when I was twenty. When I began a direct relationship with Christ, I started to realize that I could do something in some small way to reflect my faith. So now, when I’m producing something and I’m noting the script, I’ll always ask to have profanity taken out. And then, of course, I immediately become ‘the Christian guy.’
“One of the best things to happen in the last few years is that Hollywood has begun to acknowledge the Christian community as a viable market. Perhaps the end result of that will be a young filmmaker who has a great message that would have been shut down six years ago and now people in the industry are going, ‘Oh, maybe there’s something here.’
“But profanity, it’s just not on their radars. I don’t think there’s any sensibility concerning the profane use of God’s name in movies. But as you and I both know, the moral fiber of the country is not the same as that in Hollywood.”
Read Phil's review of Barnyard HERE.