THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"CHICKEN LITTLE"

In Chicken Little, Zach Braff provides the voice of the title character, who has been the subject of scorn ever since his incorrect proclamation that the sky was falling. Everyone in town makes fun of him for this error, and his father Buck Cluck (Garry Marshall) views him as a great big embarrassment. Chicken Little dreams of the day when he can do something right and earn his father’s approval. Until that time, he merely tries to navigate life’s daily hazards with the help of his friends Ugly Duckling (Joan Cusack), Fish Out of Water, and a hilariously paranoid pig called Runt of the Litter (Steve Zahn).

The curse is temporarily broken when Chicken Little unexpectedly makes a heroic play in a baseball game. This definitely captures the attention of his father. But not long afterward, another piece of the sky falls on his head. In fact, it’s a strange hexagonal panel that blends chameleon-style into its surroundings. On the back of the panel is a series of lights and circuits. Chicken Little and his pals do some investigating and stumble onto the fact that it is a piece of a UFO. A little alien creature makes its way off the mysterious ship and gets left behind; later on, the UFO returns, ready to destroy the planet in order to get the creature back. Chicken Little thinks that if he can return the creature to its family, he will save Earth and permanently earn the respect of everyone – particularly his dad.

Chicken Little is one of the most important movies in Hollywood right now. It is the first homegrown computer-animated feature from Walt Disney Pictures. All their previous releases were actually Pixar productions. When it came time to renegotiate their contract, Disney decided to play hardball, forcing Pixar to seek a new home. (This was widely regarded as a major mistake on Disney’s part, especially since a similar situation also resulted in a divorce with Disney-owned Miramax.) There is clearly a need to prove that they can generate their own successful computer-animated films.

If anything, I think the movie falls victim to a fallacy that has been plaguing too many animated features these days: it feels the need to overdo things a little bit. The subplot with the aliens leads to some over-the-top action scenes that are at odds with the smaller, more personal story of Chicken Little’s attempt to gain acceptance. The beauty of Pixar’s movies (Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles) is that they keep things simple. You got toys, you got fish, you got superheroes. The focus remains on those things at all times. The makers of Chicken Little seem to think that they need some big thing to happen in order to hold the audience’s attention. In truth, I believe that the plight of the character will have more impact for kids than the space battles.

Nevertheless, kids are going to like this movie, and so will many adults. By now, it’s become standard procedure for computer-animated movies to be packed with wall-to-wall in-jokes and pop culture references. The film follows that rule and comes up with some real winners. (An early parody of Raiders of the Lost Ark is particularly funny.) Runt of the Litter is equally good for laughs. The perpetually frazzled pig breathes into a paper bag when he starts to panic; at one point, he panics so hard that he accidentally inhales the bag.

The animation is also pleasing. This is a fun movie to look at. It takes place in a town where everyone is an animal and the mayor is a turkey. The title character is especially designed in an effective way. Chicken Little is a tiny little bird with a big head and lime green glasses. On the surface, he’s naturally adorable (oh, the merchandising possibilities!), but the look really plays a big part in creating his rich personality. Aided by first-rate voice work from Zach Braff, the animators have perfectly conveyed that the character is small in body but big in heart. Like the best animated characters, he has a chance to stand the test of time.

Chicken Little also features a fine supporting cast, a sweet message about personal worth, and a brand spanking new theme song from Barenaked Ladies. The plot doesn’t need to pack itself with as many bells and whistles as it does, but I’m willing to overlook that. The movie is fun for all ages, and besides – who could resist this charming, insecure, heroic little clucker?

( out of four)


Chicken Little is rated G. The running time is 1 hour and 18 minutes.

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