‘Chicken Little’ is an underappreciated Disney delight

Zach Braff provides his voice as the title character in 'Chicken Little'
Zach Braff provides his voice as the title character in ‘Chicken Little’

One of the best tests I can devise for animated films now is whether or not my son is willing to sit through it. It’s not scientific, but it’s the best kind of gauge I have at my disposal — besides my own perspectives.

When I popped the DVD in, as usual, my son was resistant. He is always a little wary of trying new movies. Not really sure why, exactly, but I suppose that’s par for the course with children. They’re always hesitant when it comes to something new. They like the familiar. Either way, Chicken Little was only on for a few minutes and he was hooked. So hooked, in fact, that he was dancing to the music at the very end.

He loved it, and I did, too.

Chicken Little offers a rather elaborate spin on the familiar tale. In it, Chicken Little (voiced by Zach Braff), is the town laughing stock after claiming that the sky was falling. However, we know that the sky did in fact fall (sort of), only what exactly hit him was a mystery. His father (Gary Marshall) rather coldly sides with the town folk, apologetically explaining away the incident as nothing more than an acorn striking his small child on the head.

Little then spends the next year struggling to find a way to win his father’s respect. He’s finally offered that opportunity at a little league game. Riding high on a victory he made possible, Little finally believes that his past is behind him.

That is, until the sky falls again. And this time, he discovers that it isn’t exactly the sky that fell, but a piece of an alien space craft.

The story moves at a hyper-rapid pace, and feels slightly disjointed at times, but remains thoroughly entertaining. Chicken Little is sympathetic, largely because he’s stuck with a rather jerky father. The parent in me had a problem with the relationship between father and son in the film, as it seemed rather cold for an animated family flick, but it proved effectively emotional at the climax. I also found all the side characters very funny, most especially Runt and Fish. Runt was ridiculously funny, thanks in part to the talents of Steve Zahn. Fish, who doesn’t really speak but makes bubble sounds, is also perfectly comedic. He may appear like the naïve fool of the group, but is actually the smartest. It would also be wrong of me not to mention the brief yet notable scenes featuring the late Don Knotts as the town’s mayor, Turkey Lurkey.

Of course, it is impossible to discuss a computer animated feature without making note of the animation itself. And in this case… I’m not that impressed. There is a style to it that I liked. The texture was nice, with some great design and color. On a technical level however, maybe it was just me, but I noticed some artifacting in some of the more elaborate scenes. Runt for example seemed to have to breaks in his body. It may have just been my eyes playing tricks, who knows, or perhaps a fault in the DVD production itself. As Disney’s first — and most likely only now that they own Pixar — computer animated feature film produced in-house, I was a little surprised.

Still, that’s largely just nitpicking. I really don’t care about those little things, as long as the film is entertaining. And Chicken Little is very entertaining. The clever spin on the story provided by Steve Bencich and Ron Friedman was terrific. I most especially loved the manner in which they provided an explanation for how the sky could fall, and the scenes with the aliens were funny and effective.

The DVD includes some nice extras, including deleted scenes and alternate openings, one of which explores the film’s initial concept that had Chicken Little as a girl. There’s also a “making of” featurette that explores the story’s development, as well as a trivia game related to the movie, music videos and sing alongs.

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