Chicken Little Movie Review

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Now that Disney finally has gotten rid of that albatross of Pixar, the Mouse can finally get on with making computer animated movies by itself. Gosh!

But seriously, Chicken Little is Disney's first solo stab at a CGI kiddie flick, something that was going to happen sooner or later and which, given Disney's recent track record in animation, has had most moviegoers scared silly. Chicken Little takes an age-old fable and hands the story to director Mark Dindal (who directed the best animated Disney movie in recent memory, the under-seen The Emperor's New Groove). Nice start, but... Chicken Little? "The sky is falling, the sky is falling?" In the original story, Chicken Little gets beaned with an acorn and gathers up all his friends to tell the king that the sky is falling. As they trek to visit the king, they are captured by Foxy Loxy and (depending on how gruesome the interpretation you're reading is) are promptly eaten.

Well, that probably wasn't going to fly as a Disney movie, so now we get Chicken Little: The Remix. In the 2005 version, Chicken Little (voiced by an unrecognizable Zach Braff) is a runt of a kid, the son of a widower father (Garry Marshall) who's beloved among town as a former school baseball hero. The film starts with his claim that the sky is falling (which culminates in a panicked destruction of the town), moves on to Chicken's unexpected redemption from loser status on the baseball field a year later, and abruptly takes a spin in a different direction when it turns out that, oops, the sky really is falling. (Though I won't say why or how for fear of ruining the movie's sole surprise.)

As a story, the film is on the weak side. Self-referentialism, pop culture references, and classic movie homages are all used to extreme effect -- arguably to the point where they start to become overwhelming. The cast list (check it out) is a veritable who's who of recognizable voices. (Don Knotts, people!) But playing "who's that voice" only entertains you for so long. There's just not much to the plot of Chicken Little, which is probably what happens when you try to turn a 20-line fairy tale into a full-length feature film. Wake me up when they make The Itsy Bitsy Spider.

Then there's Disney's stab at 3D animation. There's nothing wrong with it, but the visuals notably lack scope and depth. Consider the cities and forests of The Incredibles. Chicken Little has none of that: The entire town feels smaller than a studio backlot. And while the wee Chicken Little has a great degree of detail to his feathery body, most of the characters are rather rubbery, and their environments tend to be staid. I suppose there's something to be said for the kind of institutional knowledge that Pixar has been able to generate in nearly 20 years of work. (That said, Disney is showing off the movie in digital 3-D on about 100 screens nationwide, part of a brand new ILM process that actually uses the 3-D animation designs to specially render the different views for "right" and "left." And yes, you still need the glasses.)

Fortunately the movie is brisk, the heartfelt songs are minimal (but boy are they heartfelt), and Chicken Little is loveable enough as a scrappy wannabe hero. But it's the morbidly obese pig Runt (Steve Zahn) who utterly steals the show. He's not just a stereotypical big eater (he is a pig, after all), the Little crew makes him obsessed with karaoke to the point where a rendition of "I Will Survive" can coax him into heroic action. And yet he's the biggest loser of Little's friends: In one of the film's funniest moments, he chokes on the paper bag he's hyperventilating into.

Still, a collection of cute scenes do not a movie make, and Chicken Little isn't really memorable beyond a good handful of slapstick gags. And though it's unabashedly designed for kids, the film didn't really resonate with the children in my audience. During the action-filled climax, my own three-year-old daughter lost interest and chose to incessantly sing "Jingle Bells" instead of pay attention to the film.

Jingle Bells... Hey, now there's an idea for a movie!

On second viewing on DVD, my daughter still expressed a similar amount of interest: Rapt attention for 20 minutes, then lots of running around the house. Extras on the disc include three alternate openings (including the "storybook" opening mocked in the ultimate film and one that had Chicken Little as a girl. A few kiddie featurettes are also included.

The pie is falling.

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Chicken Little Rating

" OK "

Rating: G, 2005

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