Saturday, July 18, 2020

Chicken Little (2005)

In 1943, Walt Disney produced a short film based on the fable Chicken Little (aka Chicken Licken), which tells a story about the consequences of falling for hysteria. During the Walt Disney company’s more experimental years, they decided to release another take on the same source material in 2005, simply titled Chicken Little. I will admit I only recall ever seeing maybe parts of the movie beforehand, and even then, what I remember the most was the marketing for it around that time (I recall not being that enthusiastic about actually watching it when I was a kid), as well as a cameo appearance from some of the characters during a televised awards show. After watching it in full through a Disney XD airing, I will say it was somewhat better than I expected from it, however, it’s definitely not one of Disney’s stronger animated films.

Similarly to the original fable, Chicken Little (Zach Braff) warns the town of Oaky Oaks that “the sky is falling”, though the whole incident is brushed off as him having been hit by an acorn when the object he claims to have been hit by, a piece of the sky shaped like a “STOP” sign, is nowhere to be found. A year after the incident, it turns out the town has been milking the incident for all it’s worth, even making a movie based on it. Rather than talk to his father about it at the suggestion of Abby Mallard/Ugly Duckling (Joan Cusack), Chicken Little decides to try and clear his name by joining the school baseball team. Despite being successful, the same incident from a year ago happens again, with only Ugly Duckling, Runt of the Litter (Steve Zahn) and Fish Out of Water (Dan Molina) on his side.

The story does admittedly take a very different direction from the fable, though I will admit the idea of the piece of the sky being alien in origin was at least a clever idea. That said, the execution of its ideas is somewhat uneven and could’ve been improved in some areas. One of the biggest sticking points of the movie is that most everyone in the town seems mean to Chicken Little for seemingly no reason, having mocked him about the acorn incident for at least a year to the point of monetizing it, up to and including a film adaptation. This comes off as a tad extreme and makes the movie more mean-spirited than it really needed to be. There is, however, a more emotional core to the story in the strained relationship between Chicken Little and his father after Chicken’s mother died, though this seems like something that could easily have been fleshed out more to make an overall more emotional story.

Another thing that seemed a bit rough was the relationship between Chicken Little and Ugly Duckling. Early on in the movie, there is a hint that Ugly Duckling has a crush on Chicken Little, though not much is made of it until the very end, when Chicken Little suddenly admits to having a crush on Ugly Duckling after finally having a talk with his father. This revelation comes out of nowhere in the context of the story and could’ve been given more time to develop more organically to better sell the two as a couple.

From left: Runt of the Litter (Steve Zahn), Chucken Little (Zach Braff),
Abby Mallard/Ugly Duckling (Joan Cusack), Fish Out of Water (Dan Molina)

The animation is okay, however, it doesn’t really hold up all that well. Some shots seem to lack some lighting effects that make it look unpolished, though in general, it looks like Disney was still learning how to animate an entire movie in CG rather than parts of a traditionally-animated movie. The quality would be improved later with Disney’s own Meet the Robinsons, though by comparison Chicken Little’s animation quality doesn’t hold up as well as Shrek 2 from DreamWorks Animation or The Incredibles from Pixar, both of which had come out the year before.

The town of Oaky Oaks features a large mix of animal characters in order to work around the source material, some of which are used for comedy such as a bird person running into a clean glass window or a mother rabbit trying to save her kids from an incoming water tower in the opening scene, with a visual joke based in a rabbit’s infamously large birth rate. I will admit some jokes in the movie got a small exhale out of me at the least or a small chuckle at most, though nothing was particularly laugh-out-loud funny to me. There was a perfectly good reason for the town to be designed the way it was to keep with the fable, though the concept of an entire animal-based society in a Disney movie wouldn’t be further explored until later with their smash hit Zootopia in 2016.

Zach Braff, probably best known for his role as the main character J.D. on Scrubs, provides the voice for Chicken Little, working with the script to the best of his ability and making it work with the tone of the movie. Garry Marshall, creator of the Happy Days “cinematic universe”, shows his years of acting experience as Buck Cluck, father of Chicken Little, trying his best to make his character come off better than what the movie itself makes it come off as. Joan Cusack, better known to Toy Story fans as the voice of Jessie, also manages to make her role as Ugly Duckling work, as does Steve Zahn as Runt of the Litter, though Dan Molina’s Fish Out of Water is limited to mild vocalizations. The movie also features some notable talent such as Amy Sedaris as Foxy Loxy and Don Knotts as Mayor Turkey Lurkey, as well as Patrick Stewart, Wallace Shawn, Patrick Warburton, Adam West and The Simpsons alum Harry Shearer in minor roles. The quality of the voice acting is good overall, making the movie somewhat more enjoyable.

In a sort of atypical move for Disney, Chicken Little features a number of licensed songs, including a bit where Runt of the Litter sings Queen’s “We Are the Champions” and Chicken Little sings “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls alongside Ugly Duckling. The most noticeable, however, is the R.E.M. song “It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”, which features in the third act at a time when it was (and still is) used as a generic “doomsday” song. This, combined with the more mean-spirited tone of the story, can make the movie come off as a failed attempt to emulate DreamWorks, particularly the first two Shrek films, which is something Disney would never try again and makes the movie a bit of an oddball in the studio's animated canon.

The piece of the sky is alien in origin.

While Chicken Little doesn’t have much in the way of a media presence, it did have a couple video game adaptations, at least one of which is apparently considered more enjoyable than the actual movie. More notably, Chicken Little himself appears as a Summon in Kingdom Hearts II, though interestingly this acted as more of a promotion for the movie in Japan due to the game launching there before the film’s Japanese release date.

Overall, Chicken Little is just okay. The voice casting is great and the actors do their best to work with the script they were given, but the animation doesn’t hold up very well and the story shows signs that it needed more work to get a more emotional story. As it is, this isn’t really a strong recommendation for Disney fans, though it’s worth watching maybe once out of curiosity.

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