Chicken Little
directed by Mark Dindal
(Walt Disney, 2005)

We all know the story. Chicken Little got hit on the head by an acorn, got the whole town into a panic by proclaiming "the sky is falling" and then suffered humiliation for his mistake. Clearly, the little guy is in need of some redemption -- and, thanks to the folks at Disney -- he finally has it.

It turns out he really did get hit on the head by a piece of the sky -- actually, a cloaking panel from an alien spaceship. Redemption doesn't come quickly, however. A full year after the original embarrassing incident (which never faded into the background, thanks to billboards, a book and a forthcoming movie about the whole fiasco), it happens to Chicken Little again. Even with friends to verify the event, no one believes him yet again -- not even his father.

It's a terrible thing for a child to tell the truth and have one of his parents not believe him. The trauma of that feeling, even more than the continuing public embarrassment, has haunted Chicken Little ever since the original incident. Buck Cluck loves his son, and he tries to be a good single father to him, but he's really not there for Chicken Little in the bad times. That gulf between an otherwise loving father and son is really the emotional crux of this story, carrying with it a meaningful message to both children and parents alike.

Michael Eisner did at least one good thing during his time at Disney -- he saw the original image of Chicken Little as a female and changed the minds of the filmmakers on that score. From that point on, it was smooth sailing -- due largely to some wonderful casting for the voice actors. I think Zach Braff is great as the voice of the little hero, but Joan Cusack and Steve Zahn are pretty much perfect as the voices of Abby "Ugly Duckling" Mallard and Runt of the Litter, respectively. With all of their comedic antics, these two characters (along with the amazing Fish Out of Water) really make this a movie that kids are sure to love. Garry Marshall brings Chicken Little's dad to life, while a whole cadre of talented stars, including Patrick Stewart, Amy Sedaris and Don Knotts, make even the minor characters delightful.

The only little issue I might have with this film is the music, and I only say that because a good bit of it goes back two or three decades. When Runt starts doing Bee Gees and Gloria Gaynor songs to keep up his courage, few kids are going to recognize the music -- maybe the filmmakers just threw this stuff in as a little extra for adult viewers.

As usual, Disney proves quite generous with the extra features on the DVD. You get the obligatory behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, three alternate openings and a deleted scene, the music video of "Shake Your Tail Feathers" by the Cheetah Girls (featuring Chicken Little, Ugly Duckling and Runt getting down with their bad selves), a music video (not to mention karaoke and sing-a-long versions) of "One Little Slip" by the Barenaked Ladies, a trivia-related game of "Where's Fish?" and sneak peeks at gobs of upcoming Disney releases. The alternate openings are interesting, reflecting the fact that the filmmakers were unsure at first how to introduce the film to the audience, and one of them is quite special indeed, as it features the late Don Knotts narrating the classic tale of the unfortunate little chicken.

I'll never be too old to enjoy a good animated film, and the sort of 3D animation that brings Chicken Little's world to life is still quite an amazing thing to see. At the same time, the animators attempt to retain the essence of the classic Disney style, which ensures that the look of this movie won't be anything less than impressive. Ye olde squish and stretch never gets old, while the move and zoom point-of-view technique really goes to show how far animation has come over the decades. It's that mix of the past and the present that makes this film a real winner in my book.

Chicken Little certainly isn't Disney's most magical film, but it is cute and entertaining enough to delight children as well as a fair share of adults.

by Daniel Jolley
6 May 2006

The premise of Chicken Little is an odd one: blend the traditional Chicken Little story (a little chicken gets hit on the head by an acorn, believes the sky is falling, panics, incites panic in others and becomes a laughingstock) with, of all things, H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds!

In this hybrid, Chicken Little, voiced annoyingly well by Zach Braff, is hit on the head, creates a panic, becomes a laughingstock and then tries to regain his social status amongst the other "kids" (all different kinds of animals), plus tries to gain his loving father's respect. His father, voiced paternalistically perfectly by Gary Marshall, is a single father who loves his only child, but was deeply embarrassed by the sky-is-falling fiasco.

Chicken Little has three friends: Runt, an enormous piglet with self-esteem issues, voiced neurotically well by Steve Zahn; Abby "Ugly Duckling" Mallard, who is a cornucopia of well-intentioned and sometimes reasonable pop psychology advice, voiced offbeatly by Joan Cusack; and Fish Out of Water, an irrepressibly happy little fish wearing a diving helmet filled with water, voiced perfectly unintelligibly by Dan Molina. The quartet are busy trying to survive school, peer pressure, low social ranking and frequent embarrassments, and are doing quite well at it.

There are also some very good voice-cameos: Don Knotts as Mayor Turkey-Lurkey, Patrick Stewart as the teacher and Frank Willard as the "visitor" father.

And then, the unthinkable happens: the sky falls on Chicken Little's head again, one year after the first incident. Chicken Little, and then his friends, realize this is actually a close encounter of the third (or fourth?) kind that evolves into a full-scale alien invasion, because of a moment of parental distraction and a huge misunderstanding. Can the quartet save the world and avoid an unnecessary interplanetary war? Can Chicken Little get his father to believe in him? Those two issues are inextricably interwoven.

The story is pretty off-the-wall, but is fun to watch and lends itself to lots of action and interaction. The father-son issue, and the parent-child issue, are dealt with nicely. The animation is very good, and harkens back to classic cartoons of yesteryear. The colors are vivid, and there is great attention to detail (e.g., the traffic light was run by a chameleon, who changed color along with the sign being held up). I very much liked how the different animal citizens of Oakey Oak acted somewhat like people, but also retained their natural, realistic aspects (e.g., the dog family did eat in a restaurant, but ate their food right out of a bowl, and lapped up their beverages). Even the vehicles driven by the animals were customized to each species, and the vehicles seemed to be just as much alive as their passengers.

Among the special features of the DVD, you can see most of the actors doing their voiceover performances. And, instead of offering us alternative endings, we can see three alternative openings to the story, including one where Chicken Little is a girl instead of a boy.

Is this a good, fun film for younger children and for families with young children? I think it is. Will it appeal to teenagers? Probably not. Will parents find anything objectionable in it? I highly doubt it. Will adults enjoy it as much as, say, Shrek or Ice Age? No, the humor does not strike different levels like it does in those films. But, adults will probably enjoy it for at least one viewing, and smile a lot.

I have to add that Fish Out of Water is one of my favorite animated characters ever. I found him to be irresistibly likeable. Mom, can I have one? I promise to take care of him! Please!

by Chris McCallister
8 July 2006

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