Even the most desensitized aficionados of cinematic perversion cringe at the thought of “Barney’s Great Adventure,” a terrifying drama about three children who foolishly tamper with the dark powers of “imagination” and thereby conjure into existence an anthropomorphic dinosaur whose mirthless playtime revelry leaves them psychologically scarred and unable to cope with the realities of life. Draw near, if you dare, and pay heed as I relate the horrific tale.
The tone is established by the song that plays over the opening credits, in which young listeners are given this dangerous advice:
“If Barney the dinosaur
Comes knocking on your front door
Just go and play with him
Find your way with him
To the world of imagination.”
Having told impressionable viewers that they ought to run off with anyone who comes to their house claiming to be a TV dinosaur, the film begins its grim story in earnest.
It is summertime, and a family is headed to Grandma and Grandpa’s farm in upstate New York, where Mom and Dad will leave the kids for a week while they go off and enjoy some time far, far away from their children. The boy, Cody (Trevor Morgan), is a miserable little bastard who HATES the boring farm and is “too cool” to play along when his younger sister, Abby (Diana Rice), tries to engage him in conversation with her stuffed Barney doll. Cody absolutely despises imagination, creativity, and joy. Cody and Abby have a baby brother who doesn’t matter and I don’t know why he’s in the movie. Also, Abby has brought along her friend, Marcella (Kyla Pratt), who is African American and is in the movie so that the movie wouldn’t only be about white people.
Fun fact: Every person who appears in this movie is now a heroin addict!
As soon as they get to the farm, Cody runs off with the Barney doll and hides it in the bathtub. Has he realized that the doll is a pernicious token of evil? No, he is just being a brat. Abby and Marcella, unable to find the toy, use their imagination — whereupon the shower turns itself on, and suddenly, there in the place where the doll had been stands Barney himself. The girls summoned him, in much the same way that saying “Bloody Mary” three times in the bathroom mirror will make Bloody Mary appear, or the way that mentioning “Star Wars” and hockey while eating Cheetos will conjure Kevin Smith.
Surely this is the most terrifying thing that has ever happened to these children, right? I mean, it’s not even close, right? No matter what trauma or fear the kids might have experienced heretofore, it would be nothing compared to the shock of finding a fictional character standing in their grandparents’ shower.
But Barney, whimsical demon-spawn that he is, just laughs and asks for a towel. Appearing in bathrooms is not unusual for Barney the purple talking dinosaur! Why, sometimes he’ll show up in a child’s dark closet or under its bed in the middle of the night, just for kicks. Nothing delights Barney more than surprising the pee — the very pee — out of the children who love him.
Fun fact: To create the unique sound of Barney’s giggle, audio engineers mixed recordings of geese, donkeys, and the screams of damned souls in Hell!
Abby and Marcella are overjoyed to meet their idol, and instantly agree to do his bidding, whatever it may be, all hail to Barney. Cody remains dedicated to being surly. “Look, pal,” he says. “Real dinosaurs don’t talk.” HE’S GOT YOU THERE, YOU WIDE-BOTTOMED HARBINGER OF SORROW! But Barney replies, “I’m as real as your imagination!” — which 1) isn’t an answer and 2) means he is not real at all, since things that exist in one’s imagination are, by definition, imaginary. (To be fair, Barney is not accustomed to having existential arguments with anyone over the age of 5.)
Cody refuses to believe Barney is real. “If you’re here because of my imagination, then you’re about to disappear!” he exclaims, demonstrating more logical reasoning than anyone else so far. He closes his eyes and says, “I do not believe in you.” But it doesn’t work. Once summoned, Barney cannot be destroyed. “That’s OK, Cody,” the immortal plush reptile says. “I believe in you!”
Fun fact: In ancient Sumerian legend, Barney was a vengeance god who escorted disobedient children to the underworld, where he feasted on their flesh for eternity!
What transpires next, occupying the remainder of the film, is an adventure so nightmarish and surreal it would make Luis Buñuel throw up in his hat. A shooting star passes overhead and delivers a large, basketball-sized egg to the barn. Barney and the kids find the space egg and want to know what’s inside it, and though the movie is very pro-imagination, in this case it is necessary to use actual science. So they take the egg to a kooky lady named Mrs. Goldfinch, who has a house in the woods that serves as both a library and an egg museum. She is the local expert on birds, eggs, and the Dewey decimal system.
Mrs. Goldfinch and Barney and the kids sing a song about the mystery of the egg as they bounce merrily through the place, pulling books off shelves and making guesses. (“Maybe it’s a chimpanzee!” says one of the kids, stupidly.) At last the answer is revealed by one of the books: the egg contains a Dreammaker! Nobody knows what that is, but it sounds nice. It will hatch once the five rings on the shell change color, but only if the kids have returned it to the barn by then. That ought to be a very simple task, and it would be in the real world. In this world, however, all the people responsible for transporting the egg back to the barn are clumsy and butterfingered, and the egg itself is apparently coated with a lubricant, because it is CONSTANTLY getting away from them.
Doh! I dropped the egg and it rolled down the hill into the back of a wagon! Zoing! Now the wagon is driving into town, right in the middle of the Merrivale Apple Day Festival! Yikes! I got a hold of the egg, but then it flew out of my hands and landed in the marching band’s tuba, and the tuba player blasted a really strong note and blew the egg across the street through the open door of that fancy French restaurant! This egg is gigantic, yet invisible to everyone except us and evidently as light as a feather!
Do you like movies where the characters have to keep doing essentially the same thing over and over again? Of course not. Nobody does. The fiends who made “Barney’s Great Adventure,” in addition to disregarding the customary meanings of the words “great” and “adventure,” also intentionally devised a story that cannot be enjoyed. It is a Sisyphean ordeal, if Sisyphus had occasionally paused from his labors to sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” “Old McDonald Had a Farm,” and other songs from the public domain.
Fun fact: Even though it was an American production, “Barney’s Great Adventure” had to be filmed in Canada because of strict anti-obscenity regulations!
Cody gets over his aversion to imagination, at one point imagining an ordinary log into a biplane so that he, the girls, and Barney can catch up with the hot air balloon that now has the space egg. (Don’t ask.) The egg is recovered and taken back to the barn, where it hatches into an ALF-looking thing that shows everybody their dreams. Which seems pretty useless, since people generally already know what their own dreams are. And not to get technical, but if all you do is show people’s dreams, you’re not really a Dream maker, are you? Just one more damnable lie from this grueling, hell-spawned torment masquerading as a children’s movie.