Movie Review: Chicken Little (2005)

Chicken Little (DVD)Chicken Little (2005)

Starring Zach Braff, Joan Cusack, Steve Zahn, Garry Marshall, Don Knotts, Patrick Stewart, Amy Sedaris and Vizzini.

Directed by Mark Dindal.

I have loved every Disney/Pixar computer-animated feature film since Toy Story. A Bug’s Life was hilarious, Toy Story 2 improved on its predecessor, Monsters, Inc. was a refreshingly original idea, Finding Nemo showed me that cute doesn’t have to be saccharine, and I thought The Incredibles was absolutely …well, incredible.

Then, the honeymoon ended. Joanie, it seemed, didn’t love Chachi after all. Pixar and Disney went their separate ways and—shock of shocks—Disney’s first non-Pixar computer-animated feature film hit theaters before Pixar’s first non-Disney computer-animated feature film. ((You will not be quizzed on this.)) The animation was crisp and clean, the trailers were damn funny, the cast read like the menu at Kris’ Favorite Voices: The Bistro, ((Not an actual bistro.)) and the first reviews brimmed with happy verbiage. Not only that, but the trailer for Pixar’s first solo project, Cars, gave me the impression that Jeff Foxworthy had mated with Speed Buggy. To me, it looked as though Disney was going to come out of the relationship on top, co-dependent no more.

Now that I’ve actually seen Chicken Little, it seems to me that Disney is the divorcee who buys a sports car, rents a deluxe apartment on the east side, parties hard and cries himself to sleep every night. The glitz and the glamour is just a thin veneer that hides an emotionally bruised wreck of a man, trying desperately to rebuild his shattered ego and find meaning in his life again. ((What can I say? Overblown analogies were buy one, get one free at the Pick ‘n’ Pay.))

Chicken Little hits the ground running and doesn’t slow down… until about five minutes into the movie, when someone decided that maybe the youngsters in the audience could use a forty-minute nap. The story slows to a crawl in order to expand upon a poorly executed relationship subplot between Chicken Little (Zach Braff) and his father, Buck Cluck (Garry Marshall). ((I have no idea why Buck’s last name isn’t Little, or Chicken’s last name isn’t Cluck. There seems to be some sort of Rhyming Rule when it comes to names. (There’s a character called, I kid you not, Morkubine Porcupine.) Notable exceptions are Abby Mallard (Joan Cusack) and Runt (Steve Zahn). Oh, and the title character. Can’t forget about him.))

Later, one of the writers must have remembered that there was a story to be told, so the last twenty minutes or so of the movie deals with Chicken Little’s stock in trade: the falling sky. This is where the alien invasion comes into play, along with all that funny stuff from the trailers. Except that by the time those choice moments arrive, they’re not funny anymore.

The resolution of the Chicken Little/Buck Cluck relationship problem is dull, but the resolution of the alien invasion is so downright uninspiring and lackluster that it borders on insulting. Imagine, for a moment, that Aliens ended with Ripley giving the alien queen a hug and a strawberry milkshake and then they lived happily ever after.

Okay, so that’s an apples-to-oranges comparison, but the aliens in Chicken Little are pretty damn fearsome from the get-go. They’ve got angry eyes and scary tentacles, they fly around like killer buzzsaws, and they zap everything in sight. However pleasant the eventual outcome, the reality is that they were willing and able to destroy the entire planet over a misunderstanding. You definitely don’t want to be on their bad side.

After the horrible pacing and sub-par story, the most disappointing aspect of Chicken Little is the voice acting. It’s not that the actors themselves are bad; they do a pretty good job with what they’re given. But so many great voice actors are given throwaway roles with just one or two lines. Patrick Stewart is completely wasted, as are Patrick Warburton and Wallace Shawn. It’s the biggest waste of voice talent since James Earl Jones’ turn as Darth Vader in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

How disappointing was Chicken Little? Well, if you know me at all, you’re aware that I’m very picky about the movie-going experience as a whole. I also have rotten luck when it comes to sitting next to rowdy or restless children (X2: X-Men United) and chatty adults (Hollow Man, Serenity). The people in the auditorium with me tend to not only leave their cell phones on throughout the movie, they also answer incoming calls (Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones). We saw Chicken Little at a 5:10 matinee on Saturday afternoon. Laura and I were just about the only people in the auditorium without five kids that talked and ran around throughout the movie. And none of that bothered me at all. The movie wasn’t engaging or funny enough that I was annoyed to be distracted from it.