From tiny acorns, great oak trees grow. And mountains are made of molehills.
Everyone knows the story of Chicken Little, the skittish little hen who, in the world of ancient fables, sits down to lunch and thinks the sky is falling when she's hit on the head by an acorn. In most versions, Chicken Little (or Chicken Licken or Henny Penny, as she's also called) sets off to warn the king that the sky is falling, picking up one friend after another along the way. When they get to Foxy Loxy, that crafty old predator ends up eating each of Chicken Little's friends, all because of her foolishness. The moral? Don't believe everything you hear.
Disney had a lot of acorns riding on the film version, because it was the first fully computer-generated animated feature produced in-house, and the first to utilize the Dimensionalization process for 3-D figures. The House of Mouse also snagged Don Knotts for one of the voices, in what would turn out to be his last film.
Disney's take on the story is actually pretty inventive. Instead of a girl, Chicken Little is now (at Michael Eisner's insistence) a boy who doesn't have the relationship he wishes he had with his single-parent dad, a robust rooster ex-jock revered in Oakey Oaks (sounds like a subdivision, doesn't it?) for the baseball records he set while a young clucker. So you've got the "I can never measure up" thing going between Chicken Little and Buck Cluck. As for the acorn, it's been replaced by a stop-sign piece of space garbage that has chameleon properties. Hold it in front of you and it picks up your image. And yes, there are aliens in this version, and so the fable becomes more "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" than "Chicken Little." At first, when Chicken Little sounds the alarm because he thinks a piece of the sky (which looks like sky) has fallen, the whole town comes running. But then the space junk disappears, and there's no proof. Buck, embarrassed, apologizes for his son's vivid imagination.
There's more embarrassment on the baseball diamond, where teensy weensy Chicken Little can barely lift a bat. And so the stage is set for Chicken Little to prove two things: that he can be believed, and that he can do something athletic to make his father proud. Not bad raw materials for filmmakers to work with, really. You also have to give credit to any studio that actually puts out a G-rated movie these days.
The trouble is, every film comes down to character, and frankly, these characters aren't terribly endearing and they're not drawn in such a way that we feel warm or caring about them. Chicken Little (voiced by Zach Braff) is probably the best of the bunch, followed by Buck Cluck (Garry Marshall). But the remaining characters that populate Oakey Oaks are just plain stupid or annoying. Chicken Little's two main friends--also outcasts--are a pig named Runt of the Litter (Steve Zahn) and a buck-toothed duck named Abby Mallard (Joan Cusack). The pig is drawn like an over-inflated blimp with tiny feet, while those buck teeth and country accent make Abby seem like a refuge from "Hee-Haw." Mayor Turkey Lurkey (Knotts) is equally blah and forgettable as a character, which is too bad, because that's not how Knotts should have gone out. One funny routine comes from Mr. Woolensworth, whose class on Mutton (not Latin) teaches the conjugation of that sheepish language (in which everything sounds like "Baa"), and whose take on teaching comes straight out of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."
There are other funny moments throughout the film and some humorous sight gags, but the main characters just aren't lovable or distinctive enough. They seem generic, and that's a shame, because the concept itself seemed decent, and the animation, while it doesn't knock your socks off, is certainly competent. But it's not helped by the 3D treatment, and the characters and a few other things make this one more appealing to the kids than to the whole family. Wee ones will enjoy the songs that are interspersed throughout, but to adults it will seem like an animal American Idol, and just as self-conscious. There are also way too many long emotional moments and reactions, and too many contrived feel-good scenes. Still, as I say, the kids will probably like it. And except for one questionable song where Chicken Little's friends do karaoke to the Spice Girls singing "If you wanna be my lover . . .," it's innocuous G-rated fun.
"Chicken Little" is a texture-rich movie, and with pristine source material that makes it perfect for Blu-ray release. In 3D Blu-ray, though, it disappoints. Not only does the depth presentation vary, but there are also numerous cases of ghosting that are apparent enough to where you notice, even if you're not looking for them. Is it the fault of the MVC/MPEG-4 transfer? That's what I suspect, but I can't say for certain because I never saw this title in theaters. Still, all the bright colors in the world and all the detail can't compensate for dark scenes that don't have the same pop, or images that have indistinct edges. "Chicken Little" is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio.
The featured audio on the Blu-ray was/is an English PCM 5.1 uncompressed (48kHz/16-bit), with additional options in English, French, and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish. But the 3D features an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack that actually feels more sonically pleasing. As with the picture, the sound has a clear and pristine quality to it. Additional options are in French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Incredibly, here's a Blu-ray release that apparently has more features than the standard DVD. Though it's missing "Where's Fish," an interactive trivia game from the first release, this one has a decent commentary with director Mark Dindal, producer Randy Fullmer, and visual effects supervisor Steve Goldberg that's worth listening to, along with deleted scenes featuring Mayor Lurkey's Pep Talk, Buck's Apology, Something Must Be Done, and Lunch Room B. In addition, there are three "original" deleted scenes with intro that offer three different optional openings, including one with Chicken Little as a girl.
There's also a roughly 20-minute making-of feature that's pretty average but also pretty interesting, and two music videos: The Cheetah Girls singing "Shake Your Tail Feather" and Barenaked Ladies performing "One Little Slip," the latter also playable as a sing-along. And there's an "Alien Invasion" game that's a throwback to Space Invaders. Finally, there's a Filmmaker Q&A that allows you to watch the film while "asking questons"oof the filmmakers. Yeah, if only it were that easy. It's more like calling into a help line and getting pre-fab responses that anticipate the most common questions.
Ostensibly aimed at kids, "Chicken Little" has decent animation and some humorous moments, but it disappoints because of unappealing characters, a lack of real emotional depth, and too much reliance on contrived feel-good moments. That disappointment continues with the 3D presentation, which just doesn't have the consistent depth and "pop" of other releases.