U.S. Release Date: November 4, 2005
Distributor: Buena Vista
Writer: Ron Bencich, Ron J. Friedman
Composer: John Debney
Cast: Zach Braff (Voice), Garry Marshall (Voice), Patrick Stewart (Voice)
Running Time: 1 hour and 21 minutes
MPAA Rating: G

Chicken Script Befallen with a Case of Bird Flu
by Scott Holleran

Disney's wispy Chicken Little, which has virtually nothing to do with the famous story about the little chicken who thought the sky was falling, hardly gets cooking. Despite a feast of clever, colorful scenarios and talented actors providing voices, a collective of screenwriters contaminates the feathery fable with a theme that combines aliens with pseudo self-esteem.

After a halting start narrated by Garry Marshall, who does the voice of Chicken Little's (Zach Braff) single father, an equally disorienting flashback shows that Chicken Little's admonition that the sky is falling has made him the butt of the town's jokes, complete with Hollywood planning a motion picture about his major blunder.

Only his alarmism wasn't necessarily a mistake—and the 77-minute mini-movie plays "What If…?" with a classic children's tale, replacing the moral lesson with a benign father-son conflict. By removing the fun of lampooning jumping to conclusions, Chicken Little picks at its episodic arcs—redemption, ridicule, vindication—with the enthusiasm with which one eats Brussels sprouts. Chicken Little lives in Dullsville.

The disintegrated story peaks early, during a suspenseful baseball game, in which the chowder-headed chicken half-heartedly plays to please his ex-jock dad. When he implausibly hits a homer, and it takes a while to run around the bases, dad is proud and, because his kid wins the approval of the pack—who include the usual stable of farm animals—the family status is restored. With motives exclusively oriented toward impressing others, Chicken Little never gains his own identity and the groveling for others is never repudiated. So much for authentic self-esteem.

That a movie with this much talent—Don Knotts, Joan Cusack, Steve Zahn, Catherine O'Hara, Patrick Stewart and a fine band of animators, who create expressive characters (Cusack's Ugly Duckling works best)—shoehorns its best efforts into an aimless plot is beyond the scope of a review. But to make a kids' picture specifically about the importance of a parent's unconditional love, peg it to the issue of trust and then base it on something that has no basis in reality is, pardon the dig, loony tunes.

Director Mark Dindal, visual effects supervisor for Disney's superior The Little Mermaid, is probably in over his head with too many writers and directives. This is Disney's first computer-animated effort on its own since the innocuous Dinosaur—without Pixar—and it might have been worse. Though it's not exactly a spoonful of sugar, none of today's pop culture digital features, including Pixar's dual-reality Monsters, Inc., go down easily. But this twisted take on Chicken Little chickens out.

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