If there was a spectrum of animated films, where the witty, high brow Pixar movies were on one end and the broad, stunt-casted DreamWorks Animation films were on the other, “Chicken Little” would fall dead in the center. It has a fresh visual style and keeps the bodily function jokes to a minimum (like Pixar), but they also stuffed the movie to the gills with pop song after pop song (a la “Shrek”), as well as recruiting voice talent from “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy,” Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries, and even a couple of Pixar veterans. It’s not a masterpiece, but it is an awful lot of fun, and an encouraging first CGI step for a studio that’s been eating cartoon dust of late.
Zach Braff voices the title character (which technically makes him Rooster Little, but we digress), an extremely resourceful young chicken who sends the town into a panic when he rings the bell in the school tower and tells everyone the sky is falling. When he is unable to find the piece of the sky that he saw fall, his father Buck Cluck (Garry Marshall) is naturally mortified, and tries to tell Chicken Little to lay low for a while. Chicken tries to abide by his father’s wishes, and even joins the baseball team (Buck was a star player in his day). But just when it seems that things are okay between father and son, another piece of the sky falls (on Chicken’s head, no less), and Chicken Little soon discovers something far more sinister is afoot. The problem is that aside from best buds Abby Mallard, a.k.a. Ugly Duckling (Joan Cusack) and Runt of the Litter (Steve Zahn), no one believes him, including his father. In traditional Disney fashion, Chicken Little’s mother, who surely would believe her only son, is dead.
Their choice of subject matter, as old as it may be, is a wise one from an animation standpoint, because it allowed them to fill the supporting cast with every animal you can think of, led by female bully Foxy Loxy (Amy Sedaris). This gives the movie a truly unique feel, even though the town that these animals call home looks like any other human city (except for the cars, which have a boxy, Warner Brothers feel to them). The alien chase sequences (don’t ask; the less you know, the better) are pretty thrilling for G-rated fare; kids under 5 will probably be a little spooked by them, but it’s resolved in a pretty friendly way. The dialogue isn’t going to put Kevin Smith or Quentin Tarantino out of a job – in fact, the number of people who received story and dialogue credits is in the double digits – but at least the humor isn’t loaded with sexual innuendo. There are other ways to keep the adults interested, and the writers here, thankfully, knew that (ahem, DreamWorks).
But what on earth possessed them to stuff this movie with so many pop songs? Sure, music is one of Runt’s defining characteristics (one long stretch of his dialogue is the entire chorus to a Carole King song), but is the scene that’s scored by REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” actually better off because of the song’s presence? Is the dodgeball scene (which is laugh-out-loud funny) improved by the inclusion of “Gonna Make You Sweat”? It should also be written in stone that the only good use of a Spice Girls song is an ironic one, like when the bad guys in “Small Soldiers” used “Wannabe” to torture the protagonists.
In the end, though, Disney gets the right things right. The movie is alternately funny, exciting, and sweet, and the cast, while somewhat overexposed in the world of animation (Wallace Shawn, Harry Shearer, Adam freaking West), is well chosen just the same. Sure, they made some very calculated moves to ensure that the movie would appeal to as many people as possible, but for the most part their decisions were good ones. One can only hope that they attack their next project with a little more confidence, instead of second guessing what would make a successful animated movie. Come on, guys, you’re Disney. Don’t you remember how to do this?(3 / 5)