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Chicken Little (2005) Print E-mail
Friday, 04 November 2005
“Chicken Little” is Disney’s first CGI-animated feature release not made by Pixar. “Dinosaur” was also largely CGI, but it tended toward realism rather than the goofy, cartoon-like fantasy of “Chicken Little.” If Disney wanted to prove that they don’t need Pixar to make outstanding CGI-animated features—well, the jury’s still out.

It’s not that “Chicken Little” is a failure, it’s just that it’s all over the place, trying for almost every kind of joke available to a G-rated “family” movie. The story is familiar, almost a funny animal version of Joe Dante’s “Explorers.” The climax it builds to falls somewhat flat, and it’s hard to summon up much sympathy for the characters, so broadly drawn that they never really engage our sympathies.

The director is Mark Dindal, one of those who headed up “The Emperor’s New Groove,” a minor Disney cartoon feature that suffered from repeated rewrites and changes of style. “Chicken Little,” scripted by Steve Bencich and Ron J. Friedman, is more unified, but still a long way from Disney classics like “The Lion King” and “Lilo and Stitch.”

It’s so all over the place that it’s hard to say just what the central story is. In the town of Oakey Oaks, Chicken Little (voice of Zach Braff) panics the populace when he rings the alarm bell declaring, just as in the Mother Goose story, that the sky is falling. He knows, because it hit him on the head.

Chicken Little is already a figure of scorn; he’s a tiny little guy who has few friends in school. (We see a class studying the “mutton” language. “Car,” says the teacher; “baaah” respond the students.) He’s no good at sports, being outperformed by dazzling Foxy Loxy (Amy Sedaris), brilliant at every sport. His pals are Fish Out of Water (a silent fish in a water-filled diving helmet), Abby Mallard (Joan Cusack) and enormous pig Runt of the Litter (Steve Zahn). But even they are inclined to disbelieve Chicken Little’s sky-is-falling claim. Neither is his widowed father Buck Cluck (Garry Marshall), who was a major sports figure in his teen years.
A year later, and Chicken Little is still a laughing stock, apparently of the whole world. He, Fish, Abby and Runt encounter a spaceship and befriend a tiny, three-eyed alien (resembling a flame made out of orange fur). They find another “piece of the sky”—a hexagonal tile from the bottom of the spaceship which is all electronic displays on one side, and automatically camouflaged on the other—after a moment to mull things over, I guess, that side displays exactly what it covers.

When an armada of flying saucers arrives to rescue the young alien, Chicken Little and his pals are put to the test.

The movie is speedy and brief (77 minutes), but occasionally slams to an irritating halt to feature lengthy dialogues between Chicken Little and his father. These have almost no visual interest—and very little dramatic interest either. They exist solely to set up the artificial conflict between father and son; nothing suggests that Chicken Little frequently tells whoppers, so there’s no reason for his father not to believe him these times. The standard Disney setup—a youth with one parent or none—is trotted out here as if this was the only possible structure for a feature.

The picture is crammed with gags, many going on in the background of dialogue scenes. Some of these are clever, some are intrusive, but that’s not as much of a problem as it might ordinarily be, since they’re over with so quickly. There are references to other movies—no sooner has the movie begun than it references “The Lion King” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

The characters tend to be fuzzy, defined more by the performer providing the voice than by dialogue. Chicken Little himself is not especially appealing and Runt , always on the verge of panicked hysteria, s occasionally annoying, though he does have a tendency to burst into songs at unexpected moments. Pixar’s films are short on songs; perhaps making up for that, “Chicken Little” has too many.

The movie is being shown in IMAX 3D, but was shown to the press in standard format. Since a lot is riding on “Chicken Little” being a success, it seems unwise for the studio not to have presented the film to the press in its best possible form.

“Chicken Little is inoffensive fun, more appealing to kids than to adults, but as it’s launching Disney’s in-house line of CGI features, more thought and care should have been given to the story and characters. The many small gags are almost throwaway (like a car that jiggles and wiggles as it idles), and the story is familiar. There’s too much apparent effort to please everyone, too little emphasis on the elements that make Pixar’s films so entertaining. Is this the end of the Disney studio animation story?

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