Disney's `Chicken Little' has fowl problems

MovieReview C

November 04, 2005|By CHRIS KALTENBACH | CHRIS KALTENBACH,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

That Chicken Little sure is cute. What a cute, adorable little chicken he is.

Did we mention that he's really cute?

Faced with a string of underperforming films at the box office, Disney has responded by both changing the way it does business - no more traditional animation for this studio, bring on the computers! - and resorting to that hoariest of animated movie cliches, the adorable-animal flick.

Chicken Little is relentlessly cute. That's the good news, and those who consider the word cute anathema may want to look for entertainment elsewhere. But the movie has deeper problems, including labored messages about parental love and believing in yourself, inspirational themes that have been done to death in Hollywood films over the years (especially movies aimed at kids, which Chicken Little squarely is).

The movie deals with traditional chicken little lore in its opening minutes. In a town of anthropomorphized animals (all unbelievably cute, even if that little chicken is the cutest), bedlam breaks out when the alarm bells start clanging. After much cute scurrying about, they gather in the town square to hear of the danger. And who do they find but Chicken Little (voice of Zach Braff), jumping about and insisting the sky is falling.

They all look up, see the sky is as whole as it ever was, and start berating the little guy for causing all this fuss. His poor, mortified father, former high school baseball standout Buck Cluck (Garry Marshall), assures everyone his son is just a little excited. Obviously, the little guy is having issues.

Control your boy, the other animals urge. Lay low, Dad tells young Chicken Little. Don't do anything to get yourself noticed. Stay invisible.

Which proves easy, given that Chicken Little is one of those misfit kids who lives to be ignored. His only friends are the similarly ostracized Abby Mallard (Joan Cusack), a pig named Runt of the Litter (Steve Zahn) and Fish Out of Water (who wears a fishbowl on his head and doesn't talk, so no big-name actor had to be hired to provide a voice).

How much you wanna bet that Chicken Little gets the chance to prove himself? That ol' Buck Cluck realizes he's been unfair to the little guy, that if he doesn't believe in his son, who else will? That many, many other cute animals - even an adorable three-eyed alien ball of fur - will show up?

Chicken Little is not without merits. Had the filmmakers been a little less relentless in their pursuit of cute, some of the characters would have actually proved engaging (the porcupine is simply way cool). And any film that gives work to the great Don Knotts (he's the voice of Mayor Turkey Lurkey) contributes to the common good.

Unfortunately, the five credited screenwriters (including director Mark Dindal) have spent way too much time delving through the Hollywood recycling bin. Save for an interplanetary finale, almost every sequence in the film is one that's been played out on movie screens before. The baseball game at which Chicken Little and Buck Cluck finally have the proud father-son moment they've always dreamed of is lifted straight from Parenthood, while the school goings-on involving Chicken and his buds is an animated John Hughes film.

Come to think of it, even the finale is a cross between Star Wars and E.T.

The look of the film, despite all the fuss over its reliance on computers over human hands, doesn't represent an advancement over anything Pixar has done. And there's very little that passes for wit in the film, unless witty and cloying have suddenly become synonyms.

Then there's the sorry, sad relationship between Chicken Little and Buck, for which many sympathetic tears are supposed to be shed. Problem is, Buck just comes across as a bad father, while Chicken Little is relentlessly plucky. The movie never lets you forget how sadly poignant their relationship is - yeah, they love each other, even though neither is able to provide what the other needs.

Parent-child relationships have been at the center of many great Disney films. Of course it was a tragedy when Bambi's mother was killed, or when Dumbo's mom was locked away. The movies didn't need to remind us every few minutes. If only Chicken Little proved capable of such restraint.

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

Chicken Little (Walt Disney Pictures)

Starring the voices of Zach Braff, Garry Marshall, Joan Cusack.

Directed by Mark Dindal

Rated G

Time 78 minutes

Review C

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