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Barkley's Barnyard Critters: A Mystery Tail DVD

For those of you familiar with Lightning Bolt of LOAD Records, it's pretty safe to say the band has a well-documented cartoonish side. Bassist Brian Gibson in particular seems to nurse such personal tastes, and in his freetime Gibson has been known to write, produce, draw, and release cartoons via LOAD into the DVD universe. Starting in 2002, he created Barkley, a singing dog who fronts an avant-garde rock band full of equally odd characters. The initial videotape run proved popular enough for the 2004 "Pick a Winner" episode on DVD, and this year's "A Mystery Tail." Having seen the VHS debut but not the second episode, I will focus only on the events of "A Mystery Tail" and nothing else.

The scenario is thus; Barkley's band is finally making waves in Critterville and its popular music community; Barkley feels bored and unchallenged by the band and decides to quit after a particularly bad practice. The cunning and (possibly) sinister record executive Snakeworthy Price decides to replace him with a genetically-engineered rapper snake cobbled together from the DNA of various notable literaries, Barkley goes into a drunken stupor in a cave and has a hallucination which inspires him to win his band back in a battle of the bands contest.

The animation is actually very interesting, and dare I say shockingly well-done. For someone who tours frequently as well as hits up the studio to record, Gibson is fairly adept at fleshing out his creations. The animation switches without warning between live-action puppets, crude 2-2 cartoons, and even a bit of 3-D computer graphics. All of it is crisp and on par with more mainstream fare such as Adult Swim, South Park, or Family Guy. The soundtrack is a fun, rambling affair by LOAD progressive instrumentalists Wizardzz, who bring their whimsical visions to the episode and make it fit with relative ease. In fact, hardly a moment goes by in which the band isn't playing some slick background music, the likes of which is actually more entertaining than the cartoon itself.

And thus, the irony. Despite solid artistry and an intriguing soundtrack, the actual plot and dialogue itself is piss-poor bad. The voice acting is clearly pronounced, but the lines are often read with little or any emotion. Jokes aren't actual comedic devices as they are random events someone probably found amusing while high on acid. And worse of all, the plot is so threadbare and wooden interest wanes fast. 

From a hilarity stand-point, every bit of attempted humor is usually dead on arrival, and the ones that survive are still pretty weak. Barkley is gruff, annoying, and fairly unlikeable; too often the dog likes to state the obvious for us viewers and he has a watered-down "Beavis and Butthead" aura to him that is grating. His bandmates are either of little interest or hardly explained at all, while antagonist Snakeworthy Price barely steals the show with his vaguely Mr. Burns persona, nefarious plots, and intelligent but creepy dialogue.

The extras are the only virtual entertainments here, as fifty-three minutes of Barkley is too much for me personally and I feel confident in saying most casual viewers will feel the same. That original, twenty-minute Barkley debut off VHS is included, and is barely any better than this one. Also included are trippy live clips of Wizardzz playing a show (about eight minutes worthy actually) that is so off-the-wall fun I'd almost wish I'd just gotten a CD of their live sets. Another clip of psychedelia and puppetry colliding in a bizarre Wizardzz live show entitled the Totem Tour is decent and worth a glance, but its three minute length makes for limited replay value and few long-lasting thrills. With all this working against it, "Barkley" has more bad dog to him than good dog, or so I'd personally wager. Approach with caution punters, and don't say I didn't warn you.



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