I’m not one of those people who need Disney animation to be automatically associated with Pixar. As some people know, I’m never particularly phased by much of Pixar’s work, only to accept it for occasionally entertaining fare, not for cult fanbase classics-I still pride myself on never doing on of those “Which Finding Nemo Character Are You” quizzes online. But even without Pixar, there’s something missing in Chicken Littles tiny animated soul. Instead of keeping a reasonable pace with developed and interesting characters, director Mark Dindal has composed a frantic, sometimes annoying movie that rips apart a fairy tale to make a modernist work of mayhem. There was so much going for this movie, and it has its moments, but it lacks the real zip that movies like Wallace and Gromit and Shrek 2 really nailed. Pop culture references are great, but here they seem thrown in with no punchline involved-there’s no acceptable reason that ‘Wannabe’ by Spice Girls should be played anytime without a joke involved. It’s not a big mess, but it really sets a low standard for Disney’s animation studios.
Chicken Little (voiced by Braff) is a timid little chick who ends up walking into trouble everywhere he goes. One day, he gets hit by what he thinks is the sky-the town panics, and he can’t find the piece of sky anywhere, so everyone just thinks he’s crying wolf. His father, Buck Cluck (Marshall) is a town baseball legend, and Chicken just can’t connect with him at all. His friend Abby Mallard (Cusack) tries to help him bond with his dad, so our hero decides to try out for baseball. When his luckless attitude eventually leads him to batting for the season’s last game, he actually wins them the championships. Now happy that he’s pleased his father, Chicken is on top of the world….until another piece of the sky hits him, and this time it’s under custody. Before we know it, UFOs are landing on earth, ready to invade. Chicken Little must save the world once again, and convince his father and the town that he’s not crazy.
I wish the voice acting here wasn’t so anonymous. It’s always a joy to see Zach Braff come to the silver screen in any format, so I was looking forward to his first voice acting gig. Although the character is cute and determined, Chicken Little never really develops at all. Instead of creating some sort of motive for the miniscule hero, Dindal leaves him bouncing from plot element to plot element, never allowing him to ever connect with the audience. All of the other characters are merely filler, and much of it is annoying filler at that. Abby Mallard, better known as the Ugly Duckling-which any scholar of Aesop and Grimm could tell you doesn’t belong in the Chicken Little story, but would normally be called Lucky Ducky-is just a side character with a squeaky tone and a penchant for driving the storyline home. Characters such as Runt of the Litter, voiced by Zahn, prove to be social stereotypes-in this case, the first case of a Disney-animated homosexual-and are occasionally funny and cute.
Dindal strives to be universal throughout the entire movie, whether it’s culturally or through ages, and it just never holds steady ground. While trying to appeal to kids and adults simultaneously, the final product ends up a mess-a loud and eccentric blend of unexplainable pop culture cracks and sight gags worthy of the Zucker brothers. Some are hilarious, some drop dead because they just don’t belong. The story hits a dead end, and drags on towards the middle; for an hour and 17 minutes, that’s never a good thing. By the time the sky falls a second time, a cute fuzzy alien appears in the grand picture, ends up turning around the story with no explanation, leading REM to be blasted through the theater speakers with every audience member wondering exactly why. But most of them don’t care, because they’re seeing it in Disney Digital 3D.
I wanted to like Chicken just a little more. There’s so much one can draw from fairy tale adaptations, and it doesn’t just have to be social references. The joy of movies like Shrek and other similar films are how the filmmakers strip down the layers of a fairy tale narrative and create farce from that. Chicken Little just modernizes it and lays an egg.