Movie Review: Chicken Little (correction)

Yesterday, I indicated that Cars will be the first Pixar film not flying the Disney banner. My team of fact-checkers has informed me that this is incorrect. At present, it appears that Cars will be the last Pixar film co-produced and distributed by Disney/Buena Vista.

Ratatouille, starring Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond), may be the first film Pixar releases through a non-Disney distributor.

I am also informed that Elton John does not reference “the Death Star plans” in his song “Saturday Night’s All Right (For Fighting).”

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.

NaNoWriMo, Day 11-13: Ebb and Flow

For the first time since this crazy thing began, I’m all caught up and I didn’t have to stay up until stupid-thirty to do so.

On Friday, I let the story fall dormant. I didn’t write a single word.

On Saturday, Laura and I went to a NaNo gathering at the Madison branch of the Lakewood Public Library. I had decided to write some of my protagonist’s backstory, and every sentence was painful to write. It was dull and uninspired, and it was a huge chore to write. My word count for the meeting was about seven hundred words.

After the meeting, Laura and I went to see Chicken Little, then had some dinner. Instead of sitting down to write when we got home, I watched Saw. Twice. Then I watched bits and pieces of a couple other movies, including The Boston Strangler starring Henry Fonda and Tony Curtis.

So, when I got up this morning I was at just over seventeen thousand words. The target for today is a little less than twenty-two thousand. We had planned to go to the Arabica coffee house in Willoughby and maybe meet up with some WriMos there, do a couple of sprints, commiserate over coffee and the like. Before we left, I opened up my NaNo2005 text document, added one sentence to close the stupid flashback I had been working on, and saved the file. Whether the backstory keeps its current form or changes radically will have to wait. Today, I wanted to move into new territory.

We got to the Arabica at a few minutes after 2:00 and sat down to write. No other WriMos made an appearance, but we didn’t leave until 7:15. It was easily the longest I’ve sat in a coffee shop since I was in college. It was also a fairly productive five hours. When we left, I was less than eight hundred words shy of making today’s goal.

Best of all, the plot thickens. One character I had intended to use only briefly came to the forefront and started getting surly. The protagonist asked some questions and got some interesting answers. And, out of nowhere, the antagonist offered the protagonist a job.

After we got home, I added a couple of scenes to make today’s goal, but I’m too tired to keep going right now. It’d be nice to have a bit of a safety buffer going into week three, but it ain’t gonna happen.

Today was something of a milestone for me in terms of NaNoWriMo. Last year, my novel sputtered and died around 19,400 words, and no amount of life support could revive it. Today, I blew past the 20,000 word mark. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able make it beyond last year’s stopping point, which is probably one reason that I didn’t write anything at all on Friday and did so poorly yesterday.

Time to put a lid on this before I get even more rambly. Remember how I said that I watched part of The Boston Strangler last night? Well, it started at 4AM, which meant I didn’t get to bed until almost 6AM. I’m running on about 3.5 hours of sleep, and it’s starting to catch up with me. I am made of stupid.

‘Sokay, though. Look at that word count and bow to your stupid, stupid master.

NaNoWriMo, Day 10: Hit me with the stupid.

I didn’t get much writing done at the NaNo meetup yesterday (less than 1,000 words between two 20-minute sprints), but I did introduce a new character who throws a wrench into some fairly major gears: the hot babe.

Despite my own pitiful performance, it was amazing to see twenty or more NaNites/WriMos plugging away at their novels last night. We completely took over one side of Panera with our laptops, power strips and boisterous literary conversation. Some of us (them) even managed to get some writing done. I believe more than one person reported sprint results of better than a thousand words.

I was still about 2k shy of yesterday’s target (16,670 words) when we wrapped up the meeting, but after Laura and I got home I cleaned the litter box and sequestered myself in my office. When I tallied everything up at 2:00 this morning I was just beyond the target. I completely lost track of time somewhere around 11:00, so I was very surprised at how late it was when I uploaded and updated.

I was also a little dismayed, as I had a fairly important meeting this morning at 9:00. By the time I hit the sheets it was pushing three o’clock, and I could not sleep. I wasn’t able to turn my brain off, and my mind bounced around between where I had left the story and the fact that I need to get up in about four hours.

The meeting was no big deal, but I’m dragging some serious ass today. I’m sure there’s an unusually early bedtime in my near future.

NaNoWriMo, Day 9: Gotta keep movin’

The meetup at the Enclave proved to be more chit-chat than writing, but it was a good time. There were only three of us in attendance, but one of the local NaNites who already hit the 50,000 word mark stopped by for a few minutes to gloat cheer us on. We did two sprints and I managed a total of just over a thousand words. I think Chris and Gus both managed to out-write me both times, with Gus cranking out an impressive 1,100+ words during the first sprint.

After I got home, I messed around with the Cardelion portrait for far too long (anything to keep from writing) and then sat down to wrap up a scene I’d started writing at the Enclave. I’ve got to give Chris Miller major credit for suggesting a couple of very interesting turns that I could take with my story. I glommed on to one and churned out what may be the worst-written scene I’ve done so far. My Inner Editor is securely locked away in a strongbox until 01 December, so I was able to be satisfied that I got the thing written and opened the door for something interesting to happen.

The trouble with throwing a character you haven’t fully developed into the spotlight is that you may or may not have a good feel for his or her voice. In adopting the spirit of Chris’ suggestion, I forced myself to return to a character that I hadn’t planned on coming back to for a while and doing things with him that I never intended to do. And as clunky as that scene is, it gives me room to breathe.

Amazingly enough, after wrapping up what I’ll call The Miller Scenario, I was able to launch right into another scene with my protagonist that practically wrote itself. The two scenes have no direct relation, but it was is if the act of writing the first got the wheels turning fast enough that I was able to coast through the second.

I’m roughly a day behind right now, but that’s okay. I’m still making forward progress and the characters are finding things to do or – in the case of The Miller Scenario – being given a jump start.

Tomorrow night (perhaps I should say “tonight,” as it’s now 2:15AM) is another meetup at Panera. Last Thursday there were roughly sixteen people there. It’ll be interesting to see who turns up this time.

And now, to bed.

Portrait of a Hero

Back in late September I won a Hero Biography contest with one of my City of Heroes characters, Cardelion. Today, I received Cardelion’s portrait from the contest sponsor/artist, Curt Allen (AKA Uziel.21).

I’m really pleased with how Curt has portrayed Maxwell Barstow (AKA Cardelion). Based on how the character was created in City of Heroes, I was expecting to see Cardelion in full gladiator regalia. Curt surprised me by posing Max, helmet in hand, looking as though the weight of the world rests upon his shoulders. “I had to take his helmet off,” Curt wrote in his e-mail to me. “All you wrote about him demanded that I reveal his face: strong, pensive, and giving away the fact that Max gets very little sleep.”

Curt also decided to tone down Cardelion’s physical size. In the game, Cardelion is a hulking brute, seven feet tall and extremely broad-shouldered. To get an idea of what I mean, have a look at this lineup featuring several of my heroes. Curt slimmed him down quite a bit, leaving him formidable (“[he] has Shaq’s shoulder-to-hip ratio”), but not “cartoony.” This actually works better for the Cardelion I write about versus the more exaggerated version that appears in the game (actually the Cardelion I write about is a more subdued version of what’s in the game, but you get the idea).

The scaled down image above doesn’t really do Curt’s work justice, but it is essentially a thumbnail. Click on it for a larger (but still low-resolution) version. The real treat is the high-resolution version, which is 1574 x 2475 pixels. The detail in the armor really comes out in that version, as does the emotion in Max’s face, both of which can be seen in the image below.

As I said before, I’m really pleased with how the portrait turned out. I wasn’t expecting anything with such a strong sense of personality, and I was wondering how Curt would manage to reveal the man behind the gladiator’s helmet; he did it by taking the helmet off and showing me the face I’d never seen.

NaNoWriMo, Day 8: Baby steps

I didn’t get a whole lot of writing done last night after childbirth class, but I concocted a dream sequence for my protagonist that may or may not be an accurate account of him being thrown out of a plane.

Today, I need to crank out a little less than 4,000 words in order to catch up again. Daunting, but certainly not impossible. I’m meeting a few of the Cleveland-area WriMos/NaNites at the Enclave coffee shop in Willoughby this evening, and maybe we’ll do a few sprints.

Two of the Cleveland-area participants have already hit the 50,000 word mark, and are still going. Another was just beyond 40K last night. They are writing robots, sent from the future to crush humanity beneath their heels. We bow to our robotic lexiconquerors.