Touted as Disney‘s first foray into CGI animation, Chicken Little was Disney embracing new technology and proof positive that hand-drawn animation was out. I remember Chicken Little being cute upon release, but it hasn’t aged well. The movie’s jokes are reliant on quoting music lyrics, and several of the references have aged poorly. We also have a return to action in favor of story, and while the title is about the Chicken Little story, this isn’t a revisionist fairy tale. Really, it’s just Chicken Little in name only and would have been fine without the branding. There is a lot of positives within the movie, but you’ll notice Disney slowly transforming into a blase movie studio; a far cry from the Disney of old.
After a failed attempt to report that the sky is falling, Chicken Little (voiced by Zach Braff) becomes a social outcast and a disappointment to his father, Buck (voiced by Garry Marshall). Luckily, Chicken Little might gain his redemption when aliens come to his small town, and he’s the only one who can stop the destruction.
Chicken Little is a fun, albeit forgettable film. Disney was finding their footing in the CGI world, and decided to enter the self-aware game that other studios like Dreamworks were finding success with. Chicken Little is Disney’s Shrek, essentially. I prefer this to Shrek, so I’m not saying that in a negative sense. The movie’s opening pokes a bit of fun at Disney’s fairy tale origins as narrator Buck (who stops narrating entirely after the opening) tries to start the movie using “Once upon a time,” the Lion King music, and the infamous Disney storybook. The rest of the movie is a mix of semi-risque humor (a rabbit woman pulls out a hundred kids) and pop culture references. The pop culture references remain funny for me, but I can see them going over the heads of kids today. When Abby Mallard (voiced by Joan Cusack) and Runt of the Litter (voiced by Steve Zahn) are singing the Spice Girls‘ “Wannabe,” it’s hard to find teens today who immediately recall that song. Furthermore, when Fish Out of Water dances to “Everybody Dance Now” my little brother had no idea what the title of the song was. Some references remain timeless, such as Fish reenacting the end scene from King Kong; I just wish those were consistently included. It’s another case of Disney believing if they reference what’s hip, the movie will be able to resonate with their target demographic.
The movie opens with Chicken Little’s infamous “sky is falling” statement, and the realization it was only an acorn. After the whole debacle is settled, the movie becomes a typical father/son storyline about understanding….with aliens thrown in. Really, there’s little reason to call this Chicken Little other than the aforementioned opening minutes and the title character. In Shrek’s case they took an anti-fairy tale and turned it into its own unique satire on fairy tales. Chicken Little wants to be Shrek, but the storyline is far too generic, and the movie never takes the opening subversion of the story any further. If anything, this movie proves a studio needs to adapt Jon Scieszka’s The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (might be showing my age with that book reference).
The aliens story tries to parallel Chicken Little’s as both feature sons ignored by their parents, but really the implementation of the aliens feel like the script needed something cute, as well as an infusion of action. The entire third act is a mass-scale alien invasion where the “gotcha” moment is the aliens are really overly concerned parents (voiced by Catherine O’Hara and Fred Willard). The stronger angle is the relationship between Buck and Chicken Little. Zach Braff and Garry Marshall are good in the voice cast, and I have no quibbles with the vocal cast in its entirety; Joan Cusack, Steve Zahn, and the late Don Knotts are all funny. The best character, though, is Fish Out of Water. The fish with a giant bowl of water on his head is the “cool” member of the group, and I can’t put my finger on why he’s so funny; maybe because of how outlandish his character is. He’s the one true moment of anti-fairy tale love that works.
The musical selection is a bit off-putting with a few too many pat selections, including R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It.” Yep, a joke about the song used in Independence Day…what kid won’t immediately think of that?
Overall, Chicken Little is a fun movie in a decade where Disney’s output was fairly abysmal. The animation, helmed for the first time by Disney Feature Animation (a studio responsible for some of the atrocious direct-to-DVD sequels) is okay, but looks very digitized in some sections. The movie may appear to be a carbon copy of Dreamworks, or worse Nickelodeon Studios, but it is a fun movie worth watching if you haven’t seen it.
NEXT WEEK: The CGI train keeps rolling with Meet the Robinsons
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.