The Barenaked Archive: Chicken Little

When it comes to animation, Disney has long been a brand name. Until recently, their 2-D animated films were all fun affairs for the whole family, as well as a reliable and lucrative investment for the company. That is, until the traditionally animated films started underperforming at the box office while 3-D animated movies performed outstandingly.
Chicken Little
Now, Disney is also putting its eggs in the 3-D basket (pardon the pun) with Chicken Little, the first 3-D animated movie they’ve done without their exceedingly talented counterpart, Pixar.

Thankfully, despite being a little heavy-handed at times, Chicken Little is overall an enjoyable, heartfelt, and hilarious little movie.

The titular chicken is practically ostracized from his small community of Oakey Oaks when he panics everybody and embarrasses his dad with his claims that the sky is falling. But when it happens a second time, it’s up to Chicken Little and his friends to convince everyone that he wasn’t crazy, and hopefully in time to save their town from alien invasion.

The original “Chicken Little” story is just the first ten or so minutes of the movie. Surprisingly, the writers were able to take a rather thin plot (“The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”) and beef it up to include not only aliens, but a father-son theme (this seems to be quite a trend in movies recently) as well as the ever-reliable “believe in yourself!” theme and make it all consistently funny. The audience was all but rolling in the aisles for most of the 77-minute runtime (yes, it’s short), and the jokes struck a good balance being funny for both kids and adults. (Personal favorite: the mayor’s cue cards.)

Also, characters like Chicken Little’s friends Runt of the Litter and Fish Out of Water provide quite a few laughs. Runt of the Litter is the typical paranoid, hyperventilating friend who has to breathe in a paper bag or sing ’70s tunes to help him calm down. Fish Out of Water, on the other hand, doesn’t actually speak, but his pantomimes and utter lack of fear in the face of danger make him entertaining.

Chicken Little is one inventive little bird who comes up with unique solutions to his problems, and it’s this imaginative tendency that gets him in trouble. He also has trouble with his father, Buck, a former athlete who doesn’t quite know how to handle his much smaller, non-athletically-inclined son.

Their relationship provides the major emotional crux for the movie, and for the most part it’s handled very well. However, occasionally it gets a little overly sentimental and feels a bit like they’re beating the family issues into your head (Smack! “His father doesn’t believe in him! Do you get it yet?”). That’s about the only part that really drags the movie down.

An excellent trait that Disney picked up from Pixar is the casting of voice actors for their voices and not their names. Zach Braff, Joan Cusack, Don Knotts, Patrick Stewart, Steve Zahn, Fred Willard, and even Pixar staple Wallace Shawn all lend their talents to the film, though you wouldn’t know it unless you sat and watched the credits.

The animation in the movie is also nicely done. It’s purposefully more cartoon-ish with both its characters and backgrounds, but everything moves as it should and it’s nice to see that they’re going more for visual creativity than for something that resembles reality.

Chicken Little really is a treat for kids and adults. It’s funny and charming, and an unexpectedly good entry into the 3-D animation field for Disney.

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