Chicken Little


(4/2/2006)

You may think you know the plot of Chicken Little, now available on video and DVD, but you'd only be partly correct. Sure, the Disney flick starts out with a diminutive fowl thinking he has been hit on the head by a piece of sky. And, yes, his false alarm riles the rest of the town"”Foxy Loxy, Goosey Loosey, et al"”who ridicule him when it develops that that, apparently, it was an acorn that did the damage to the little guy's addled pate. (There's even a mocking "Chicken Little: The Movie" made, just one of the self-referential cinematic gags in this animated feature.) But the basics aside, the story becomes considerably more complex and much funnier than the original.

First, there's the part about his redemption by becoming a baseball hero (!), making his ex-jock father Buck "Ace" Cluck proud of him. The funniest feature in this segment is not the game but the announcing. As in many of the comic bits, the adults will catch the verbal humor while the smallest fry enjoy the frenetic action. And the "happy ending," with the new hero singing "We are the Champions" while bouncing on his bed, is cut short when he gets hit by"”a piece of sky.

This time, however, he wakes up to discover that it's really a piece of"”what else?"”an alien space ship. Of course, when he and his friends, Abbey Mallard (aka "Ugly Duckling") and Runt of the Litter, a pretty hefty pig, tell the rest of the town what they've seen, well, hey, same old same old, huh? More ridicule, this time broadcast live on TV.

This time, though, the three intrepid friends contrive to get into the space ship, temporarily vacated by its crew, who are straight out of "War of the Worlds." (This is the only part of this "G"-rated movie that might scare the littler ones.) They rescue their captured friend Fish Out of Water but inadvertently bring back a cute little baby alien with them. His (?) parents' angry response and attempt to get the baby back drive the rest of the action, which turns more fast than funny.

As in most animations nowadays, the actors voicing the characters constitute much of its appeal. My favorites here are Joan Cusack as Abbey and, especially, Steve Zahn as Runt. The latter gets lots of the best lines, since his character note is that he speaks in old pop tune lyrics. (When his mother gets upset with him, she threatens to take away his Streisand collection.) TV actor Zach Braff is OK in the title role, though he gets a little lost in the shuffle.

This is the Disney studio's first full-go entry in the rapidly changing computer generated imagery business, and they come up a bit short of the standard set by, say, Pixar in Toy Story. There's some imaginative work with point-of-view and perspective, but it lacks the startling definition of their rivals' creations. The grandparent of the animated movie has some catching up to do, technically speaking.

The kids won't mind this, however, and their parents can be happy knowing there's nothing scary about the sky falling. Chicken Little makes a nice treat for both young and old: I'm guessing it will become a favorite in a lot of households.

 

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