Chicken Little – Movie Review (**)

(Originally posted on 11-11-05)

Disney seems to think that Animation for Animation’s sake is all that matters.  That they can slap the semblance of a story together, input the whole thing into a render farm, pop out a templatized feature length product and just by the simple fact that they epoxy their Brand name to it, it instantly should make it a quality animated film in the grand tradition of their storied past. 

While Pixar preaches “Story, story, story” (now whether that will continue to be true in the future is still to be seen…), Disney is all about the Brand.  And that fact about Disney is nowhere more evident than in Chicken Little, the newest animated mass market twinkie from the Mouse House’s piece work animation assembly lines.

Chicken Little is the animated re-envisioning of the classic third tier fairy tale about the little chicken that learned his lesson about jumping to conclusions after an acorn dropped on his head and he believed that the sky was falling and he woke the whole town to panic.  I am unsure if, in the original fairy tale, the sky ever did actually end up falling down, like in the Boy who cried Wolf children’s story (if you remember that story, you also should remember that the little boy ended up getting eaten by a wolf because no one would believe him when a real wolf actually came – which kind of has another unsettling parallel to the whole philosophical Disney discussion…).

In the new version, of course, the sky really is falling and the lesson learned is by the clueless adults that will not believe the earnest Chicken Little, who, for the most part of course, is correct.  Literally, the only similarities that this film has to the original fairy tale is a little chicken and that he en-panics the whole town when he raises the alarm that the sky is falling – and this all happens in the first 10 minutes of the movie.  From there on out, there is just a lot of silliness around a school baseball game, school peer groups and bullies, a grade school romance (at least I think it is a grade school, it could be a high school, it just is never really made clear), father/son angst and an alien invasion that isn’t all that it seems to be.

For a film that was produced for a reported 60 million dollar budget, you would think that, aside from the improved animation (which is decent but not great), that its story would be more engaging and enjoyable than something like Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius that was made for approximately 25 million dollars (and which I liked more than I really should).  Certainly, it is not all bad.  A couple of the voice performances were a lot of fun like Garry Marshall (renowned television producer of Happy Days, Odd Couple, Laverne & Shirley and famed movie director of Pretty Woman, Nothing in Common and Princess Diaries – I never said he was a particularly astute judge of projects…) with his heavy, heavy Brooklyn accent as Chicken Little’s father named, strangely enough, Buck Cluck instead of Buck Little, Joan Cusack as Abby Mallard who is referred to in the film as Ugly Duckling and by Fred Willard and the glowing Catherine O’Hara in short voice cameos at the end of the movie.

Is it a horrible movie?  No.  Is it a must see movie?  Again, no.  Will children enjoy it?  Probably, but not due to any excellence of craft on the part of the producers or anything – little kids will enjoy it mainly because it has lots of bright colors and flashy movement across the screen.  Their enjoyment will really be no deeper than that of a crow that flies off with a piece of tinsel in its beak to pad its nest.  It is an ok movie, fine on Starz or Encore or Disney channel, but not much more than that.  It is indicative of the loss of art and pride in creation that has seeped through Disney in the last 15 years or so.

Hopefully, they will re-engage with Pixar and will get a feel for what it used to feel like when they believed in what they were doing and knew that the brand was made from excellence rather than an excellent brand making up for lackluster and generic product like Chicken Little.  If they can figure that out, maybe they will start making original movies again that have some depth and some beauty that goes beyond just the concept.

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