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Disney Animated Features
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Release Date: 4 November 2005

With Chicken Little, Disney enters into a new era. Abandoning their long tradition of 2D, hand-drawn films, Disney announced that all of their animated films from Chicken Little onward will be fully computer-animated.

Unfortunately, just as Home on the Range was a competent but forgettable sendoff for traditional animation, Chicken Little is a similar welcome for the computer animation era at Disney.

Full disclosure: This was the first Disney Animated Feature that I did not see in a movie theater since The Black Cauldron. I watched it at home, on pay-per-view. Why? I'm not sure. Rising ticket prices were a factor, but that hasn't stopped me from seeing other movies. Perhaps Chicken Little just didn't have that "must-see" cachet for me that most Disney movies have had.

The story for Chicken Little bears only the slightest resemblence to the original fable (usually titled "Henny Penny"). Chicken Little does indeed claim, in the film's opening moments, that the sky is falling -- a small blue piece of sky, to be exact, the shape of a stop sign. But as the supposed piece of sky can no longer be found, his father, Buck Cluck, surmises it was just an acorn and, embarrassed, tells the gathering crowd to go home.

Chicken Little and his father live in the small town of Oakley Oaks, populated entirely by animals, mostly those found in a barnyard -- sheep, cows, chickens, dogs, and ... lemmings. A year after the "acorn" incident, Chicken Little has become notorious for it, and so is reluctant to tell his father when it happens yet again. Investigating for himself with his friends, he discovers the fallen sky piece is part of an alien cloaking device, the alien ship apparently the vanguard of an invasion force. Chicken Little must convince a skeptical town that the threat is real -- and convince his dad to trust him for once.

The 3-D animation is perfectly competent, just as it was for Dinosaur, although this time it's done in a very cartoony mode, as opposed to the realism of the earlier film. It's so cartoony, in fact, that it would have worked just fine as a tradtionally animated film. The invasion scenes, featuring numerous alien starships, benefit from computer-aided techniques, but that wouldn't be anything new for a Disney animated film -- most of the recent ones have used such techniques to enable scenes of grand scope. Why the same thing couldn't have been done for Chicken Little is puzzling. Disney appears to have made this film computer-animated just so they can say it's computer-animated, rather than for any stylistic reason.

The characters in the film are a mixed bag. Some, such as school bully Foxy Loxy and Chicken Little's obese porcine friend Runt of the Litter, are empty caricatures. Others, such as Abby "The Ugly Duckling" Mallard and Fish Out of Water are intriguingly quirky. Chicken Little and his father are neutral, with superficial characteristics that appear to add depth but feel forced.

The voice talent likewise runs the gamut. Some of the biggest names in the cast are relegated to the tiniest roles. Zach Braff, from TV's Scrubs, voices the title role competently, but not particularly memorably. Film veteran Garry Marshall does a fine turn as Buck Cluck, but can't do much with his flat character. Character actress Joan Cusak voices Abby with aplomb, making her admittedly ugly character surprisingly appealing. Comic film actor Steve Zahn voices Runt of the Litter, doing a good job with Runt's frequent outbursts of song but otherwise forced to scrounge for laughs.

The rest of the voices are little more than cameos. Don Knotts, in his last film role, is perfect as the voice of Turkey Lurkey (the town's mayor), but his role is far too small. Patrick Stewart voices an ovine language instructor in an exaggerated version of his own accent, but only appears for about two minutes. Catherine O'Hara and Fred Willard have small but amusing roles as aliens, and Patrick Warburton (Kronk in The Emperor's New Groove) is completely wasted as another alien, having maybe three lines. Voice-over veteran Harry Shearer appears as a canine announcer. TV's Batman, Adam West, channeling William Shatner, turns in a surprising cameo as the film-adaptation superhero-version of Chicken Little. All of these wonderful, evocative voices... and they might total ten minutes of screen time between them.

Like Home on the Range, Chicken Little wasn't even nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, although Abby and Chicken Little did appear on the television broadcast to present that award. It was nominated for a few Annies but won none. The only award the film won was a Young Artist Award for Matthew Michael Josten, a six-year-old who appealingly voiced the gibberish-speaking alien kid.

Occassionally amusing, with a few very appealing characters, but also possessing an overwrought, heavy-handed plot, Chicken Little is disappointing. Its surprising similarity to Home on the Range, despite the switch in animation technique, is perhaps just more evidence for the maxim that the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Information for the Disney Animated Features series of nodes comes from the IMDb (www.imdb.com), Frank's Disney Page (http://www.fpx.de/fp/Disney/), and the dark recesses of my own memory.

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