November 7, 2005

Chicken Little1 Star

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Disney is banking on the financial success of Chicken Little to demonstrate that the Mickey Mouse corporation does not need Pixar to have animation success. I don’t doubt Chicken Little will do very well at the box office but in terms of quality, Steve Jobs’ Pixar Animation Studios have them beat. Disney also dismantled their hand drawn animation department in favor of the computer generated process deemed more popular at this moment. Perhaps the three dimensional rendering technologies exploit a certain novelty to them but what remains most important is good story telling and strong characters. Unfortunately both of these things don’t exist making, Chicken Little’s scant running time of 80 minutes seem much longer that it should.

The film begins with manic energy as Chicken Little (voiced by Zack Braff) gets hit in the head by what appears to be a piece of the sky and sends the town of Oaky Oak into panic. When Little is unable to prove his prediction, he becomes ostracized by the animal community because no one, including his father, believes him. This helps establish the film’s more pressing plot line concerning the widening emotional gap between Little and his father Buck Cluck (voiced by Gary Marshall). Apparently Mrs. Cluck died so Little, although not an orphan in the Disney tradition, lives in a single parent household.

Flash forward one year later and Little still struggles to maintain credibility and now has to contend with the perils of high school. His crew includes other social misfits such as Ugly Duckling (voiced by Joan Cusack) and the extremely obese pig Runt (voiced Steve Zahn). After a misplaced subplot concerning Little’s desire for baseball glory, the story once again returns to the fallen sky concern. Little discovers another “piece of the sky’ but learns its actually alien technology that can replicate its surroundings like a chameleon. This sets off the film’s climax concerning a supposed invasion and an alien child lost from its mother ship. Although it’s a big misunderstanding, the aliens’ destructive ray guns reminded me of Spielberg’s War of the Worlds which made vaporization a lot less funny.

The adult viewer may notice most immediately the shear amount of celebrity cameos packed into the film. Celebrity voices run the gamut from Patrick Warburton to Don Knotts to Fred Willard to Adam West. I’m not against celebrity voice work but how the film uses it becomes distracting. When I hear Patrick Stewart voicing the character of a sheep who is Little’s teacher, I get taken out of the story and think more about the person voicing the character. All this stunt voicing causes one to have “hey isn’t that-.” moments.

Another problem comes from stretching a short morality tale into a feature length film. The story really becomes about the “issues” between Little and his father. A reliance on magazine psychology seems out of place in a film intended for children. For some crazy reason I don’t really find animated ducks and chickens talking about “closure” or lack of communication skills very interesting. Pixar’s Finding Nemo contained a similar father-son dynamic but made it work with its simplicity. The thin plot explains the 2nd act of Little’s drive to become a star baseball player for his school like his father was in his day. This subplot serves little more than to pad the running time and have those ever so cute training montages.

Chicken Little wants to be successful by applying a formula made up of salvaged elements from the most popular Dreamworks and Pixar features of recent years. It’s got CGI, the pop soundtrack and the pop culture references but is there an interesting story to go along with it? I think not.

Archived article by Oliver Bundy
Sun Staff Writer