This Poultry Packs a Punch (Film Review: "Chicken Little")

From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my Arts & Entertainment articles.
This Poultry Packs a Punch
Film Review: "Chicken Little"

Mark J. Lehman
A & E Editor

Originally Published: Monday, November 7, 2005

To get an idea of how the new film "Chicken Little" plays out, imagine Zach Braff during the first season of "Scrubs" -- somewhat cowardly, slightly effeminate, incredibly wacky and unbelievably clumsy -- with glasses, feathers and a penchant for interspecies dating. Now just add a baseball game and an alien invasion, and you've got the formula for a hit flick to get a struggling animation division off to a good start.

At least, that's what the execs at Disney's now Pixar-less animation studios think.

While I applaud the effort, the movie ends up being such a massive smattering of pop culture references and pieces of other films that, though I laughed, I was left wondering exactly what had just happened to me.

Let's be different and original and start at the beginning. The curtain comes up, and the narrator, who we never hear from again after this introduction, runs through the stereotypical movie opening sequences, such as the storybook and even the famous "Lion King" exposition when Rafiki calls all of the animals together. The narrator ends up rejecting all of these ideas in favor of a more unique beginning, and this is supposed to be the objective of the rest of the film as well. Sadly, mission unaccomplished.

Within five minutes, we find out it's just another Disney character with a daddy problem. Think about some of the other Disney flicks you've seen. In "The Little Mermaid," "Pocahontas" and "Aladdin," Ariel, Pocahontas and Jasmine all had overbearing fathers forcing them to get married even though they fell in love with a different guy from the wrong side of town, so to speak. Cinderella's dad married some nasty witch (with a capital 'B') before he died and left her stuck with the wicked stepmother. Hell, even Simba, "The Lion King," had to crawl out of his father's shadow before he took the throne. C'mon Disney, let's get some fresh material instead of rehashing the same stuff you were doing more than 50 years ago.

Luckily, the target audience for the Giant Mouse changes cycles about every three years, so they can afford to do this, but they have to make sure they remember that parents have to sit through this crap, too. I guess that's the reason for so many of the jokes about Barbra Streisand and Gloria Gaynor.

Don't get the wrong impression, though. Sure, it lacks originality both in its theme and its plot. (The alien invasion is harshly reminiscent of this summer's "War of the Worlds." A word to the wise: if you're going to rip off movies, make sure that they're actually good; otherwise it's like adding water to an already diluted concoction of nastiness.) Yet somehow, "Chicken Little" still pulls off charming. It's like a puppy that poops all over the carpet but still manages to be so cute that you can't help but coo as it eats your new shoes.

Most of this sweet goodness comes from the voice talent and the animation that goes with it. Braff has the perfect adolescent/pre-pubescent nasally voice for the title character, and Joan Cusack and Steve Zahn as Abby Mallard (Ugly Duckling) and Runt of the Litter, respectively, seem as though they were talking animals in another life -- their performances are that spot-on. Add to this the Brooklyn-accented Garry Marshall as Little's father, Buck Cluck, and a host of cameos including Patrick Warburton (best known as Puddy on "Seinfeld"), Wallace Shawn (Vizzini from "The Princess Bride") and even Captain Jean-Luc Picard himself, Patrick Stewart, and you've got yourself an eclectic voice cast that would wow even the worldliest of whimsy-watchers.

Fans of the quasi-flop "The Emperor's New Groove" might see some similarities in the fast-paced and frenetic slapstick comedy of "Chicken Little." Nonetheless, all the voice talent combined with the numerous funkadelic animated dance sequences make "Chicken Little" a fairly pleasurable filmic romp. If you're looking for originality, though, search elsewhere.

Grade: B
[via Los Angeles Loyolan: http://www.laloyolan.com/entertainment/1.399643]
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