Hippo Manchester
November 10, 2005

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Film: Chicken Little (PG)

By Amy Diaz

Disney assaults you with sound, color and, of course, the tale of a boy and his dad in Chicken Little, a post-Pixar animated feature.

Chicken Little (Zach Braff) is a large-headed young fowl who becomes the laughingstock of his upwardly mobile suburbia when he claims to have been hit on the head by a piece of the sky. His dad, Buck Cluck (a very unnecessary Gary Marshall) doesn’t believe him and tells him to keep his head down as the town wears itself out making fun of poor Chicken. Fast forward a year and Chicken Little joins the baseball team in an attempt to become known for something else and to make his father proud. Despite his diminutive size and limited strength he does manage to score the point that wins the big game, becoming the toast of the town. He believes his sky-is-falling-troubles are all behind him until suddenly, whomp, he is beaned by yet another piece of the sky.

What follows is a mishmash of War of the Worlds, Lilo & Stitch and every afterschool special that included the words “I just want you to believe in me, Dad.” We get requisite amounts of irony, sentiment, kidventures and goofy slapstick.

How to describe any given scene of Chicken Little? Picture a multicolored clown yelling “AAAAARHHHHH!” in your face and then making some pop culture reference out of the side of its mouth and then going “AAAAAARHHHHHH!” again. The movie tires you out with attempts to fill every flaming scene with wall-to-wall glee. I felt as though I were being forced to Have Fun at a Disney theme park where I was required to laugh at the pre-approved funny.

Not every 3-D cartoon can be Shrek. I truly wish someone would tell the animators that. Shrek’s balance of humor (some for the kids, some for the grown-ups) and sentiment (not too gooey, not too irony-laced) seemed organic to its well-developed story of an ogre, his annoying donkey friend and a slightly paranoid princess. The characters were multi-faceted (not just three-dimensional in the visual sense) and the dialogue felt fresh.

In Chicken Little and a dozen Shrek-imitators before it, all the elements that made DreamWorks’ tale a success seem to be applied with an eye to marketing and no real sense of how or even whether these pieces make sense in these new stories. Instead of, as in Chicken Little, filling the screen with screechy sidekicks, why not spend the time developing one truly entertaining one? Instead of throwing whiz-bang visuals into the mix like handfuls of over-buttered popcorn, why not craft a good story first and then augment it with a few truly dazzling effects?

Why not? Because making blockbusters that become family favorites and film classics is hard but positioning another PG-rated kid-marketing product to make $40 million in its opening weekend (only to slip away in the following weeks) is easy. Chicken Little, the result of minimal effort and maximum marketing, achieved that low-bar goal.