- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2005

Despite a maniacally playful personality and undeniably uproarious highlights, “Chicken Little” is riddled with too many hand-me-downs and conceptual shortcomings to rank with the most satisfying Disney animated features of recent years. Nevertheless, it may prove a milestone worth observing.

This movie — a slapstick, science-fiction variation on the nursery tale about a panicky chick who gets conked by an acorn, insists that the sky is falling and foments barnyard social calamity — reflects Disney’s full conversion to computer-generated animation. It will also showcase a new digital 3-D projection system in a handful of theaters. That edition was not press-screened, but if the system lives up to its billing, “Chicken Little” could be a technical and commercial pacesetter.

The title character, voiced by Zach Braff, is a kind of update of Andy Hardy. A motherless twerp, he aspires to do big things in his hometown of Oakey Oaks and needs to foster a more huggable relationship with his widowed dad, Buck Cluck, a big lug given a voice of weary resignation by Garry Marshall.

The “sky is falling” episode is attributed to a past misapprehension that tarnished Chicken Little’s small-town reputation. Bound to overcompensate, he faces mockery from classmates but comes up big while pinch-hitting in a baseball game, something of a reprise of a vintage Goofy cartoon, “How to Play Baseball.” In context, it compares poorly with an earlier sports bit that has more comic exuberance, a school dodge ball melee. Conked again by a source unknown, Chicken spreads another alarm and is eventually vindicated by alien visitations that echo “Iron Giant” and the Steven Spielberg trilogy of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “E.T.” and “War of the Worlds.”

The character animators excel at their specialties. Chicken Little himself, supervised by Jason Ryan, has a delightful look: enormous feathery head bridged by green-rimmed sunglasses. Doug Bennett seems to have the edge on his colleagues while entrusted with sidekicks: Runt of the Litter, a hulking and overexcitable pig, and Fish Out of Water, a resourceful escapee from the family aquarium. Runt, superbly dubbed by Steve Zahn, has a particularly sensational encounter with an ATM machine.

The movie’s reliance on movie prototypes (and pop songs of the 1970s) grows excessive. These borrowings suggest a security blanket clutched so tightly it begins to shred. The plot might have defied rescue without falling back on familiar predecessors. The endorsement of Chicken Little’s climactic cause for alarm is not only stale — the aliens are coming, harmlessly — but undermines the moral of the original fable.

As a practical matter, the Disney animation studio has staged a rousing celebration for its transition from traditional cell animation to the burgeoning computer toolboxes and paint boxes. I preferred cartoon characters who resembled drawings before they became plastic toys. Computers streamline the process by facilitating figures that resemble miniature props from the outset.

This illustrative shift is clearly the wave of the present and future. It’s a comfort that “Chicken Little” hasn’t lost sight of funny character attributes. It adds several entertaining examples to the classic Disney menagerie.


TITLE: “Chicken Little”

RATING: G (Fleeting comic vulgarity)

CREDITS: Directed by Mark Dindal. Screenplay by Steve Bencich, Ron J. Friedman and Ron Anderson, based on a story by Mr. Dindal and Mark Kennedy. Additional screenplay material and dialogue by Robert Baird and Daniel Gerson, Sara Parriott and Josann McGibbon, David

Reynolds and Sandra Tsing Loh. Supervising character animators: Jason Ryan (Chicken Little), Nik Ranieri (Buck Cluck), Dick Zondag (Mayor Turkey Lurkey and Aliens), Mark Anthony Austin (Foxy Loxy and Goosey Loosey), Doug Bennett (Fish Out of Water and Runt of the Litter), Tony Smeed (Abby Mallard). Production design by David Womersley. Visual effects supervisor, Steve Goldberg. Editing by Dan Molina. Music by John Debney.

RUNNING TIME: 78 minutes

WEB SITE: www.disney.com/chickenlittle


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