Chicken Little is Disney’s first in-house computer animated release since their split with Pixar (and the demise of their 2-D department), and if this is what we are to expect in the future I will set my expectations appropriately lower next time around. It’s not that Chicken Little is bad, it’s just uninspired and runs long even at a scant 77 minutes. This is a film that contains virtually a full music video of its characters singing and dancing to The Spice Girls’ “Wannabe,” one of the worst acts of musical crime in the 20th century, and excessive use of R.E.M.’s “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” simply as filler to attain feature-length status.
As the film opens, Chicken Little (voiced by Zach Braff) is ringing the town bell and causing widespread panic by claiming that the sky is falling, when in actuality it’s just an acorn that has fallen. His reputation is destroyed (in a “boy who cried wolf” kind of way), but soon enough a real piece of sky does fall. It has unique qualities, and Chicken Little, along with his friends Runt of the Litter (voiced by Steve Zahn), Abby Mallard (voiced by Joan Cusack), and Fish Out of Water, soon discover that it may be the first sign of an impending alien invasion.
The character of Chicken Little is undoubtedly one of Disney’s cutest creations. With his messy scalp feathers, green glasses, and beady eyes, you literally want to reach out and hug him. There won’t be a soul in the audience not rooting for him to succeed and reconcile his reputation not only with the town, but with his father, Buck Cluck (voiced by Garry Marshall).
But where’s the inspiration? We are teased early on with a clever reference to Raiders of the Lost Ark, but as the film plugs along we mostly get musical interludes and dated references (the dollar bill and the soda machine gag seems ancient). The finale is a chaotic satire of War of the Worlds that is overlong and tremendously hit-and-miss. The freshness that should have been emanating from this sequence simply isn’t there, and the possibilities were endless.
One cannot fault any of the voice work on display, however. Zach Braff makes Chicken Little all the more lovable, and his range here is terrific. Steve Zahn and Joan Cusack are also solid fits as the suspiciously feminine pig and the ugly duckling, respectively. Garry Marshall, however, is ultimately the most memorable of the bunch as wise old Buck Cluck. Marshall’s work is heartwarming and accomplished. It’s always a great thing to have Don Knotts on your team, but here he is criminally underused as Mayor Turkey Lurkey. Even with all this talent, there aren’t any immediately quotable lines – a rarity for Disney animated offerings.
Chicken Little is clearly a disappointment and enough to make even the most discerning animation fan yearn for the return of Pixar and their creative genius. Oftentimes we can only fully appreciate something when we are deprived of it. On that note, please come back Pixar. We miss you already.
Studio: Buena Vista Pictures
Length: 77 Minutes
Theatrical Release: November 4, 2005
Directed by: Mark Dindal
Written by: Steve Bencich & Ron J. Friedman. Additional story material by Robert L. Baird & Dan Gerson.
Cast: Zach Braff (voice), Garry Marshall (voice), Don Knotts (voice), Patrick Stewart (voice), Amy Sedaris (voice), Steve Zahn (voice)