Arguably the most critic-proof picture of the decade, “Barney’s Great Adventure” will delight everyone who can’t wait to see it and be a grin-and-bear-it experience for those who must accompany members of the former group. First bigscreen outing for the love-him-or-hate-him purple dinosaur kicks off with a four-day run at Radio City Music Hall beginning this weekend, followed by general release next week on approximately 450 screens. No film could have a higher must-see rating among the 2-to-5-year-old target audience, assuring good B.O. during the Easter holiday season. All the same, pic does present some unusual distribution and exhibition challenges, in that it has zero potential to do evening business, indicating split bills in most situations after opening week. Prolonged theatrical life as a weekend matinee item is probable, but the real gold mine lies ahead in video.
Barney was launched on video 10 years ago and subsequently sold 45 million units, became the No. 1 preschool show on public TV in 1992 and emerged a major force in publishing, recording, live concerts and theme parks. There is no denying the huge popularity of the gurgly dino, who has the personality of a big, oafish kid and only wants to have fun, while also stressing the importance of using your imagination and having respect for others.
As the central figure of a sustained narrative, however, the good-natured, facially inexpressive guy in a furry suit has decided limitations. No matter how young, small fry will have little trouble identifying with the premise, in which Mom and Dad dump son Cody, daughter Abby, latter’s black best friend, Marcella, and a perennially pacified baby on the farm with Grandpa and Grandma.
Barney quickly appears to entertain the moppets, and while Abby and Marcella are delighted, the slightly older Cody is too skeptical and cool to buy into the make-believe. But when a large egg deposited on the farm by a shooting star is accidentally carted off, even Cody joins in the pursuit as the chase winds through a Main Street parade, a fancy French restaurant, a circus and a massive hot-air balloon launch before landing back on the farm.
Since the notion of conflict, the essence of drama, is essentially banished from Barney’s world, the only “suspense” derives from the hunt for the colorful egg, which will keep toddlers engaged but will surely have their chaperones glancing at their watches. Adults will at least be grateful that the action sprints around to so many locations, which varies what there is to look at onscreen.
Another downside for grown-ups is the musical score, which features at least portions of more than a dozen tunes, many of them painfully familiar (“Old MacDonald,” “Twinkle, Twinkle,” etc.) and none particularly exhilarating. Cirque du Soleil choreographer Debra Brown has been severely limited in what she could do by the fact that her dancers are young children and a man in a dinosaur suit.
If director Steve Gomer had wanted to be more stylistically ambitious, some of the musical numbers do, in fact, provide interesting possibilities for montage that remain unexplored. As it is, approach is mundane and straight-faced. Tyke performers are cute enough and emote in “gee whiz” mode all the way, except for Trevor Morgan’s Cody, who holds back at first but ultimately, to be sure, has to admit that Barney is pretty cool.
Although technically superior to the low-rent Barney videos, pic, which was shot in the country near Montreal, still has a bargain-budget look.