Mortal, I have made you a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.
This delightful animated fable poses the question of accepting responsibility in a memorable way. Once one accepts the conceit that there are male cows (the writers must be city slickers!), the story is one that both children and adults can enjoy and profit from (but those large udders on male bodies will be distracting, especially for viewers engaged in a 4-H project!). The subtitle is more than just clever—these barnyard really do love to party, once their human farmer has left the premises or retired for the night. Like those old speak easies in which the bar could be assembled and dismantled almost instantly whenever the police were nearby, these animals swiftly transform their barn into a roaring night spot for dancing, singing and dancing. During the day the animals love to mock humans: when, for instance, the mail man passes by, they remain on all fours, but when his back is turned, they rise up on two legs and mimic his actions.
The plot involves the efforts of Ben (Sam Elliott) to get Otis (Kevin James), the cow whom he has raised from infancy, to grow up and accept some responsibility for the welfare of their fellow animals. Lurking out there in the woods are the ravenous coyotes eager to dine on the chickens. Ben keeps careful watch over the farm, declaring that as long as he is kicking, no animal within the fence will be harmed. Each morning he gathers all the animals together, and like the sergeant in Hill Street Blues, goes over the day’s concerns, concluding with, “Be careful out there.” Of course, one can anticipate that Ben will pass from the scene, as did the father in The Lion King, and that Otis will then be faced with responsibilities from which he had fled all of his life. The moral/spiritual journey of Otis provides a good lesson, as well as an entertaining interlude, for young and old.
1) What is Ben’s role on the farm? How is it similar to the role that God gave to the prophet Ezekiel? Do you think that Otis had ever given much thought to it? What is it that he always wants to do?
2) How is growing up a matter of accepting more and more responsibilties? Is the party-instinct entirely bad? What might be the danger in over-emphasizing responsibility? How do we see this in some of the conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees and even his disciples? (See Luke 7:31-34; Matt. 19:13-15)
3) Some believe that depicting the death of a major character is unsuitable for a children’s film? What do you think? How is death handled in this film? In such films as Bambi; Charlotte’s Webb; The Lion King; The Iron Giant; The Miracle Maker?
4) What do you think of the advice that Ben leaves as a legacy for his son: “Otis, the best leader isn’t the biggest or the strongest; the best leader is the one who cares the most”?
5) How does the finale show the importance of the community?
6) How does Otis “grow up” yet retain his joy of living?