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"Chicken Little": The Little Poultry That Could

Here it is: Disney’s first CGI animated feature following its breakup with Pixar. I could get right into the panic of fans (myself included) who watched Disney’s traditional animation house crumble and, upon learning of this new direction, ran through the streets crying, “The sky is falling!” But business must come first.

In the old story, Chicken Little is a chick who gets hit with an acorn, which leads him to believe that the sky is falling. This film follows the same tack, but Chicken Little (voiced by Zach Braff) is honestly convinced that the sky really did fall. The incident turns the chick into the laughing stock of his hometown, and not even his father (Garry Marshall) believes him.

The film was directed by Mark Dindal, which is reason enough to go see it since his Cats Don’t Dance and The Emperor’s New Groove are two underrated gems of animation. But frankly, of Dindal’s three directorial efforts, Chicken Little rates third. The story isn’t as compelling as Cats and the gags not as side-splitting as Groove. (Though, really, what animated film could have gags that good?) The narrative thrust is mainly place upon Chicken Little’s shaky relationship with his father and the insistance of his best friend Abby Mallard (Joan Cusack) that they need closure. The message of family solidarity – though a good one – is trotted out a bit too often.

Another problem is the overreliance on music for brief bits of humor. Sometimes it works (as with “Wannabe” – yes, it’s the song you’re thinking of), and sometimes not (“We Are the Champions” performed by anyone but Queen just seems wrong).

The characters are quite charming and funny, from the fearful Runt of the Litter (a terrific Steve Zahn) to the inventive Fish Out of Water (Dan Molina) to the mayor, Turkey Lurkey (Don Knotts), whose instructional cue cards are never far behind. The gags are (in typical Dindal fashion) fast and humorous, like the opening destruction of town and the attempted escape of a family of rabbits. There are also some great film references, from War of the Worlds to Raiders of the Lost Ark to Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.

Though not a perfect film, Chicken Little has much to offer families. Now if Disney gets a somewhat stronger script for its next CGI venture, (to paraphrase a musical gag from the movie) they will survive.

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