Here’s a formula for success: take some B-list source material (a fable of unknown origin), cram it with pointless pop culture gags (including one character obsessed with disco for no other reason than: hey, it sure is funny to see a pig singing disco) and Dr. Phil-style psychobabble, then pray nobody can tell the difference between it and the far superior films another studio’s been making for you these last ten years.
Disney has cast aside the traditional animation that was responsible for the bulk of the studio’s successes in favor of going computer generated. “Chicken Little” is Disney’s first all-CG picture, and the studio is obviously hoping critical and box office success will follow and strengthen their hand in ongoing negotiations with Pixar, or – better yet – make them a player in the CG animation game alongside Pixar and DreamWorks.
Let me start off by saying, it ain’t gonna happen.
“Chicken Little” starts out innocently enough, as we see the titular character (voiced by Zach Braff) ringing the town bell to warn the citizens of Oakey Oaks that the sky is falling. Upon further investigation, it appears an acorn was the culprit, to the puzzlement of CL (he thought it was a huge blue octagon) and the chagrin of his easily mortified father, Buck (Garry Marshall). Fast forward a year, and Chicken Little is still the laughingstock of the town, and Buck has all but disowned him out of shame.
The first rule of any children’s cartoon movie should probably be: the characters shouldn’t talk as much as they do in an adult movie. And if they must, it shouldn’t be therapy session crap about achieving “closure” with your ex-jock father (what’s Disney’s target audience here, 32 year-old gay playwrights?). Congratulations guys, you just made the first “emo” cartoon.
Seriously, it’s a bad sign for your “kids movie” when the kids in question are asking their parents, “When is something going to happen?” Which happened more than once at the screening I attended.
Getting back to the movie, obviously Chicken Little wasn’t making everything up, and we soon learn that the piece of sky in question was actually a camouflage tile hiding a spaceship operated by a bunch of interstellar octopoids. Two-thirds of the way into the film, the action finally kicks in, but it’s not enough to salvage the entire effort, especially since we still have to deal with Chicken Little’s daddy issues even as the aliens are rampaging through the town.
What’s most baffling is how Disney seems to have ignored everything that makes Pixar’s movies so effective (interesting characters who interact in believable ways, original stories, knowing humor) for the DreamWorks strategy. “Chicken Little” is loaded with nonsensical movie in-jokes (why does one character make a miniature Empire State Building and climb it?), non sequitur pop culture gags, and the requisite adult contemporary soundtrack (hey, they’re playing R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” during the invasion, where have I heard that before?). There’s even a credits sequence where all the characters dance and sing together (to “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” huzzah). Two “Shreks” are quite enough, thanks.
The only high points here are the performances of Joan Cusack and Steve Zahn as Abby “Ugly Duckling” Mallard and Runt of the Litter*, Chicken Little’s best friends. Other than that, I can only recommend this for kids between the ages of 4 and 4 ½ and the legally blind and deaf.
* See, he’s called “Runt” even though he’s incredibly fat, and…oh the hell with it.