More noise than signal

Chicken Little

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

Aah, Walt Disney. As though the spirit of the legendarily unpleasant producer had departed it, business has lately taken something of a tumble in terms of its own output. It’s taken the dual might of Pixar and Ghibli to provide the necessary financial and critical successes to maintain some semblance of the reputation and cashflow to which it has become accustomed. With its traditional animation foundries running out of steam in fashions ranging from mediocre (Brother Bear) to risible (Home on the Range) there’s the attendant threat to the DTV sequel / spin-off series that the Disney telly empire is dependant on to deal with. What to do?

Obviously the answer, at least to now departed Chief Exec Eisner, wasn’t “make decent films again” but “can the 2D animation division that the entire company was built on, start a CG division and cross fingers”. Seeming to come to its senses a little later that people were so fond of Pixar’s output not because they’re in shiny new 3D graphics, but because they’re good, funny, well-crafted films of the type Disney used to be famed for, Eisner soon found himself turfed out and the company purchases Pixar, essentially handing management duties for the animation output over to them. What happens to the Renderfarm That Eisner Built is open to argument, but first we have to deal with it’s maiden voyage, Chicken Little. Anyone want to buy any SGI workstations?

Chicken Little (voiced by Scrubs star Zach Braff. Voiced? Why even say that? It’s not as if there’s any chance of mistakenly thinking Braff is actually a CG chicken, is there?) is struggling to get over that sky falling false alarm incident. Perhaps more stinging than the continued catcalling of the inhabitants of Oakey Oaks is the knowledge that his dad Buck Cluck (Garry Marshall) doesn’t believe him. Seeking to make his father proud of him again, he joins the school baseball team to the derision of the popular crowd but cheered on by his mates Runt of the Litter (Steve Zahn, a fat pig. Again, the film character, not the dude himself) and Abby Mallard (Joan Cusack, an ugly duckling and I’m not writing that disclaimer again). As it happens, this is archived in relatively short order, leaving time for the slightly less expected alien invasion / repulsion plot development.

All of which is played out in the usual Disney hackneyed cliché-o-vision, stuffed full with folk learning to believe in themselves and trust others, themes of social inclusion, not judging others by appearance, not tying puppies up in sacks and drowning them, and so on. Essentially, all your usual Disney pish. But in 3D! Oh dear.

As such, it means I’m about twenty years outside of the target audience again. To no-one’s great surprise at all, barring perhaps a few befuddled suits in a Disney boardroom somewhere, dishing out the same stale, trite, imagination deprived mediocrity for which you’ve been pilloried for years … but in 3D! isn’t the magic bullet to make all of your problems go away. If anything it exacerbates them, because now you’ve got the bland plot based characterisation married to some distinctly bland character design. There’s nothing too offensively awful, yet also nothing particularly memorable. The few characters that actually do look like they’ve had some serious work put into them seems to be so that the makers can remind you of other, more successful films. In fact, it’s trying to do this from the opening frames where it’s riffing off Shrek and The Lion King, through Indiana Jones territory (where it commits the billionth ‘rolling boulder’ parody to celluloid winning it the special prize of my abject hatred) before stealing wholesale from War of the Worlds.

Oftentimes, Chicken Little feels like someone’s had the idea while sitting in the bath stoned out of their tree that, “What if the sky actually did fall on the chicken, but instead of sky it was a cloaked plate from an alien spaceship! Man, far out!” and desperately tried to flesh it out into a real story after unexpectedly getting a green light at the pitch. At times, it’s desperate clutching grabs hold of a funny concept, but more often than not it just founders around gracelessly with none of the charm and wit of the Pixar stuff it’s trying to emulate.

The voice talent tries, bless ’em, but there’s not much to play with. Braff and Marshall build enough of a rapport to excuse some of it’s more overblown sentimentality, but there’s not a damn thing that any of the rest of what is, after all, quite the talented cast can do to save this. Wallace Shawn, Harry Shearer and Patrick Stewart are essentially wasted in characterless bit-parts that demand nothing other than a torpid reading of the script so viewers of a certain age can momentarily have their interest piqued by thinking, “ooh, Captain Picard” before falling back into a slumber. It’s Zahn we feel sorriest for, as he’s shown in many prior outings that with even the slenderest of cracks in a character he can wedge something eminently watchable in there, but there’s just nothing at all that can be done with the cookie cutter crap he’s been issued with this time. He deserves better.

Chicken Little doesn’t mark any glorious return to a golden age of originality and box-office dominance; it’s just a different animation delivery vector for the same warmed-over vapidity that’s been endemic in Disneyville for decades. Seriously, look at it’s animation output over the last twenty years. Sure, it’s more pronounced at the moment but what, of any real note, has Disney produced that’s actually much good? We’ll tell you, Aladdin, Lilo & Stitch and there’ll be enough people that complain about The Lion King not being included to make it worthy of inclusion in this list even if I can’t stand it. They’ve been coasting in neutral and trading on their brand name for so long that the monolithic corporation just can’t get out of this groove, and we can only hope that the essential handing over of the animation division to the newly incorporated Pixar shakes things up enough that they can actually focus on quality rather than spin off potential.

Well, let’s be uncharacteristically generous. If you’re under, say, eight, Chicken Little is fantastic. Other things that you may find to be fantastic are 1) any film ever, 2) cardboard boxes, 3) running aimlessly until you get really exhausted, 4) spending half an hour screaming for no readily apparent reason, 5) sugar. Anyone slightly older and theoretically more mature will struggle to glean even the slightest bit of enjoyment from this meandering waste. Pants.