With so many animated movies to choose from and among them such a range of cleverly layered comedies, 'Barnyard' is surprisingly disappointing, especially from a writer of Oedekerk's calibre (previous credits include screenplays for 'Patch Adams' and 'Bruce Almighty').

Farmer (Tatasciore) runs a tight-ship around his barnyard but, as his animals prove, when the cat's away it's always time to play. And so by night the farm becomes the scene of crazy barn-dances, raves, open mic nights and dance-offs, headed up by Otis 'The Cow' (James).

Otis refuses to follow in the very sensible footsteps of his father Ben The 'Udder-Flaunting' Bull (Elliott), who guards the farm against bloodthirsty coyotes. He wants only to have fun, flirting with new cow Daisy (Cox) and playing childish games with Maddy the Chick (Lovejoy) and Pip the Mouse (Garcia). But as every animation must have a moral backbone, Otis is soon called upon to be responsible and stand up for his barnyard friends, before he can justify living happily ever after.

There are a few good scenes here where the comedy is not forced, such as when a group of cattle decide to go 'boy-tipping', joy-riding and generally upsetting their human neighbours Mr Beady (Oedekerk) and his slightly crazy, but very comical, wife (Bamford). The nasty element introduced by some very menacing coyotes, led by Dag (Koechner) is also impressive, as is the sharp wit of Bessy the Cow (Sykes). But there are also plenty of letdowns. Miles the Mule (Glover) is no Donkey (from 'Shrek') and has one too many lame gags to spin out over the course of the 90 minutes.

The storyline is much reminiscent of 'Toy Story' - where action men, dolls and teddy bears gain a new life when not in human company - but the characters are nowhere near as enchanting or likeable. Added to that the lazy and inaccurate inclusion of udders on bulls will serve to get right up the noses of anyone who's ever been on a farm in their lives and insults the intelligence of even the youngest audience members. Oedekerk said in a recent interview that he thought this anatomical inaccuracy was funny. If this was what he was relying on for the bulk of the humour then it's let him down badly.

Linda McGee