Barney

on August 01, 2008 by Kim Williamson
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The purple dinosaur loved by tots has finally come to the bigscreen. Ironically, the imprint Barney leaves here is, although pleasant and wholesome, smaller than that he achieves on the small screen. On the PBS show "Barney and Friends," the most-watched half-hour for children aged two to five (it draws a weekly audience of 11 million), Barney's adventures with a variety of young folks is pleasant and wholesome--and educational.
"Barney' s Great Adventure: The Movie" does without that third objective, and the elision is disappointing; although there are several moments when characters onscreen address the audience directly, the film feels more cloistered and uninvolving than the tube version. Of course, one might wonder exactly how filmmakers would construct an entertaining movie based on, say, learning shapes and colors, but an equally intriguing question is how or why one might serve a mostly non-moviegoing demographic.
In "opening up" the TV show--the story here involves four city children going to a farm for a week, where unexpected adventure awaits with Barney and a mysterious egg that has fallen from the night sky--the filmmakers exit the classic "Barney" school setting that reveals the program's raison d'etre. The emotions here are more real-world--tinges of darkness are allowed in--but Barney's purpose as playpal educator is jettisoned. Here, he's just a member of his own barnyard gang, so to speak. And, in making everything more real, Barney's longtime insistence on the need for imagination contradicts itself; the children's imagination "works" only when what they're desiring comes into existence, and thus falls from the realm of the imagined. The filmmakers have confused imagination with The Force.
Polygram Filmed Entertainment president Andrew Fogelson had earlier promised a ?magical experience that young children will love but that their parents will enjoy too.? The former might be true; the latter isn't, except perhaps by a cinematic osmosis: A parent seeing a child's joy will feel joy. Steve Gomer ("Sunset Park") and some "Barney and Friends" veterans--writer Stephen White and producers Sheryl Leach (who created Barney) and Dennis DeShazer--keep the pace lively, but there's not much resonance to the tale they create, and the songs (the title song is by "Mame" composer Jerry Herman) are just serviceable. But production designer Vincent Jefferds (who designed the Red Knight for "The Fisher King") mixes the material world with that of the fantastical in an appealing fashion, and a GCI scene involving an airplane ride among hot-air balloons is wondrous. Would that this "Barney" have shared such ascension. Starring George Hearn, Shirley Douglas, Trevor Morgan, Diana Rice and Kyla Pratt. Directed by Steve Gomer. Written by Stephen White. Produced by Sheryl Leach and Dennis DeShazer. A Polygram release. Fantasy. Rated G. Running time: 77 min.
Tags: George Hearn, Shirley Douglas, Trevor Morgan, Diana Rice, Kyla Pratt, Directed by Steve Gomer, Written by Stephen White, Produced by Sheryl Leach, Dennis DeShazer, A Polygram release, Fantasy, imagined, material, fashion, hot-air balloons, airplane
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