Sorry, kids, "Chicken Little" is no "Finding Nemo"
Seattle Times movie critic
"Chicken Little" is cute, and for the life of me I can't think of any warmer words for it than that. Perhaps that's because it's impossible to watch a children's animated movie these days without thinking of the gold standard of Pixar: "The Incredibles," "Finding Nemo," "Monsters, Inc.," "Toy Story." These are all richly plotted, witty and touching films that enchant both children and adults with the sophistication of their storytelling and design. "Chicken Little," by contrast, is just kind of cute. Little kids will likely enjoy it; parents may fidget just a bit.
The cuteness begins with the title character (voiced by Zach Braff), who's about as stuffed-animal-adorable as movie characters can be: Chicken Little is a teeny fellow, with a big fluffy head and green-rimmed glasses that match his wee green T-shirt. He's your basic Disney Movie Misfit: a town outcast, because nobody believed him a year ago when he announced that the sky was falling. His tough-guy dad (Garry Marshall) is embarrassed by him, and the other animals at school mock him.
When our little friend shocks everyone by displaying heroics on the baseball field, his fortunes change. But then something drops from the sky yet again. Aliens (including a nifty pair voiced by Catherine O'Hara and Fred Willard) invade, and Chicken Little must find a way to make everyone believe him — most important, his dad.
"Chicken Little," with the voices of Zach Braff, Garry Marshall, Joan Cusack, Steve Zahn, Don Knotts, Amy Sedaris, Harry Shearer, Patrick Stewart, Wallace Shawn, Fred Willard, Catherine O'Hara. Directed by Mark Dindal, from a screenplay by Steve Bencich, Ron J. Friedman and Ron Anderson. 78 minutes. Rated G. Several theaters.
It's an odd up-and-down storyline, and it's told with too many shortcuts: pop songs used in place of dialogue and emotion, pop references used in place of jokes. (There's a bit about cellphones that falls completely flat, and a Barbra Streisand reference that's mystifying.) And while some of the voice work is first-rate — Braff and Marshall are fine, and Joan Cusack is charming as Chicken Little's friend the Ugly Duckling — other celebrity cameos seem pointless. Patrick Stewart voices an elegant sheep, Wallace Shawn a sputtering school principal, and both sound exactly right. (Indeed, wouldn't you want to live in a world where all sheep sounded like Patrick Stewart?) But they're in the film for a mere instant; without a character to play, it just feels like stunt casting.
The animation, which has a faintly 3-D look to it (particularly Chicken Little's downy head), is colorful and serviceable, with some nice attention to detail. (When Chicken Little lies on a bed, he's so lightweight he barely makes a dent on the quilt.) But, as Disney's first attempt at a fully computer-animated feature film, it in no way leaps ahead of Pixar's films, or of other recent efforts like DreamWorks' "Shrek."
"Chicken Little" sporadically shows some real imagination, particularly in the alien family, a three-eyed puffball trio, done in red, orange and yellow. But as Disney's attempt to catch up with the rest of the field, it falls short. A cute central character, while it might satisfy the kids, is not enough to sustain a movie. Then again, he'll probably make a great stuffed animal.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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