|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 21 March 2006|
The tale is a simple one, one that has been done (successfully) several times before, so there’s no reason why it won’t work again. However, folks expecting a serious side to the movie might as well check that idea at the door. “Chicken Little” was made strictly for fun.
As Disney’s first computer animated movie, they broke away from having characters drawn and painted. Of course, some people may point out that Pixar was doing stories digitally under the Disney Studios umbrella for years, but this is a purely Disney Studios production, not their umbrella over someone else’s work.
This “Chicken Little” varies remarkably from the source material, which is revealed in one of the featurettes. In this story, Chicken Little has lost his mother, leaving him and his father alone in the world and without a language they can share between them. It also showcases baseball and aliens, as well as the whole gamut of problems that occur at school when someone doesn’t fit in and has a past he just can’t get over.
Chapter 1 opens up with a false beginning objected to by Garry Marshall (of “Happy Days” and “Mork and Mindy” fame). He tells the directors to just get to the story, to the day that everything went wrong. Obligingly, the story chugs straight on through to that day. Chicken Little’s warning yell about the sky falling bangs through the surround sound system from left to center to right speakers, echoing over us as the sound rolls over the town. Even the rear speakers pick up the bell clapper banging. The warning starts a wave of destruction throughout the town that even contains a “Raiders of the Lost Ark” moment at the local theater where the film is playing. Chicken Little (voiced by Zach Braff) tells everyone that the sky is falling, that a chunk shaped like a stop sign dropped and banged him on the head. Unfortunately, he can’t find that piece anywhere now. Nor can anyone else. Buck, his dad (voiced by Marshall), quickly apologizes for his son, saying that he made a mistake, just a little mistake. The reporters’ voices clamor for answers, and they mix and dart through the surround sound system so that we feel like he’s pressed right in among the crowd.
Chicken Little’s problems fast forward a year in Chapter 2, but we quickly learn that his problems are still there. He and Buck discover that the town simply won’t forget the whole “sky is falling” mistake. There’s even a movie coming out.
The music background Chapter 3 as Chicken Little misses his bus and has to hoof it to school is fantastic. Barenaked Ladies pours out their best, and the choreography to bring the most out of the piece is amazing. The surround sound system kicks everything into high gear. Without the music uplifting us, the over-the-top action might be off-putting, but taken in context, it just boosts the whole experience into feel-good drive. The sight gags and action throughout the sequence are tremendous and have to be seen to be believed. Later on in the chapter, the viewer is introduced to Chicken Little’s three greatest friends, Abby Mallard, Runt, Fish (out of water), and to his greatest enemy, Foxy Loxy.
Chapter 4 opens up in gym class, one of a kid’s greatest nightmares because athletic ability quickly separates those who can from those who can’t, as evidenced by the dodge-ball competition the coach sets up between the popular kids and the unpopular kids. Fish quickly becomes a high-water mark as he does the robot through the thrown balls, and the music slams through the surround sound system. Later, after the coach is called away, the popular kids whip out their cell phones and start talking. Abby addresses Chicken Little’s problem with talking to his dad, and even pulls out some pop psychology magazines to back up her advice. Fish steals the show again as he rips and folds pages from the magazines to make a mock Empire State Building and airplanes to stage a scene from “King Kong.” After Chicken Little is hurled to a window, where he slides down and trips the fire alarm, triggering the sprinkler system that ruins his paper pants, he’s off to the principal’s office.
In Chapter 5, Buck is put up against the wall by the principal. We learn that Buck was once the school’s sports hero in baseball, but even that fame isn’t going to protect his son. Everybody figures Chicken Little is just a screw-up. In the car on the way home, the quiet moments weigh heavily as the surround sound system goes totally dead. Chicken Little suggests taking up baseball but his dad tries to talk him out of that. Even so, Chicken Little goes ahead and signs up, which initiates another round of hard-driving music as the viewer watches him practice and get ready to play. Abby gets a “Baseball For Dummies” book and coaches him.
Fish steals the show again briefly in Chapter 6 when he has his face painted up like a crazed sports fan. Mayor Turkey Lurkey is on hand for the final big game, and it’s going to be the first time in 20 years that they’ve won, since the time that Buck played. Everyone hopes that Foxy Loxy can win the game, but Chicken Little is up to bat. Miraculously, Chicken Little gets a hit, then begins running bases in one of the funniest bits outside of the Three Stooges. The outfielders are thrown into total chaos. But Chicken Little makes it home and becomes a hero, so his life is back on course.
Of course, the sky falls again in Chapter 7. This time the viewer sees the octagon-shaped piece drop from the sky and land inside Chicken Little’s bedroom. His life suddenly is right back where he doesn’t want it to be.
Panicking, Chicken Little calls his friends over in Chapter 8. Abby and Runt are busy doing karaoke and dancing to the Spice Girls’ “Wannabee” when he calls. The music thumps through the surround sound system. The piece of sky that has fallen has got camouflage tech that’s never been seen before. It can actually transform to look like whatever its environment is. Fish has some real funny parts here. Then, ultimately, Fish accidentally figures out how to make the octagon fly and it whizzes out of the room with him, carrying him up to a camouflaged spaceship.
In Chapter 9, Chicken Little and his friends begin a frantic search for Fish, racing through the town to find him. Eventually, they end up on the alien spacecraft. The exploding lights pop through the surround sound, and the tornado winds cycle from left to center to right speakers. The exploration of the alien vessel continues in Chapter 10, but it’s the chase in Chapter 11 that sets the tone for Chicken Little’s life again as he once more fights his way to the bell and alerts the town that aliens have invaded. Of course, by the time everyone arrives, the aliens have vanished again. Chicken Little’s days as a hero are over almost as soon as they started. But that’s when the movie kicks into high gear again, driving Chicken Little toward his destiny.
The additional material on the disc is great. The featurettes are fun and cool, showing a lot of what goes on behind the scenes during the planning and execution segments of the digital film. The music videos are fun and upbeat, easily watchable. The games are somewhat lackluster, but they’re there.
“Chicken Little” is one of those DVDs kids will watch over and over again. It’s a solid Disney product that has longevity and offers a tremendous amount of replay value. Great for family nights, “Chicken Little” is also one of those DVDs that can be packed up for family trips to keep young viewers happy watching favorite videos while parents concentrate on driving. But most adults are going to find something to love about the movie as well, even if it’s Fish and his antics.