Chicken Little

Once upon a time Walt Disney Studios put all their eggs in one basket in an attempt to make a computer-animated movie without their partners at Pixar. The resulting Box Office disappointment led to the Disney’s acquisition of Pixar in the hopes of maintaining the standard of animated films Pixar had previously provided. Dispite small numbers at the box office, Chicken Little isn’t a bad movie… it’s just little. The Little Mermaid doesn’t get the prince at the end of the original story. Pinocchio squishes the annoying unnamed cricket that accompanies him. You’d never know those things by watching the Disney animated versions of the tales, and the same is true of Chicken Little, who receives a modern day setting for his story, a new reason to cry out that the sky is falling and, while Foxy Loxy is a nemesis for the Chicken, he’s not in danger of being eaten.

This time around Chicken Little hasn’t been hit by an acorn, he’s actually been hit by a piece of falling sky. The town goes into an uproar when Chicken Little sounds the alarms about the falling sky but when he’s unable to prove his claim he becomes the laughingstock of Oakey Oaks. Chicken Little joins the local baseball team in an effort to regain his embarrassed father’s love, but when the sky falls a second time, proving a potential alien attack is right around the corner, can Chicken Little convince the townspeople he’s telling the truth?

The alien twist to the story may sound like a strange direction to take an ancient fable, but it’s one of the ways the Disney writers manages to make an out of date story work for a feature film. It’s not like the original story was all that serious anyway – the title character was sometimes referred to as Henny Penny and encountered a whole bunch of other animals with rhyming names. Disney takes that aspect of the story to the next level as well. The Henny Penny name may be gone, but Chicken Little’s classmates include Foxy Loxy (the class bully), Goosey Loosey, and Morkubine Porcupine. In fact, in all of Oakey Oaks it only seems to be Chicken Little and his friends whose names don’t rhyme – Runt of the Little, Abby Mallard, and Fish out of Water.

Trying to play off Chicken Little’s nerdy short stature, director Mark Dindal made the brilliant decision to give him an equally nerdy voice, found in the vocal talents of Zach Braff. Braff isn’t the only stroke of genius casting though, the entire cast is made up of some big names: Joan Cusack, Steve Zahn, Patrick Stewart, Adam West, and Don Knotts all put in vocal appearances. While it’s an extremely talented cast, they are almost all underused across the board. It’s hard to go into a movie expecting to hear all those great voices only to have most of them used for a couple of lines. Zahn, Cusack, Braff, and Garry Marshall headline the film, carrying most of its 81 minute running time, but it would have been nice to see less celebrity casting getting more screen time.

Chicken Little isn’t on par with the films Pixar puts out, but for an in-house Disney project it’s not a bad start. It’s almost a shame that Disney didn’t have enough faith in their own magic factory to keep trying, although I’m willing to accept Chicken Little as a disappointment if it keeps Pixar in the picture. It just proves Disney took the film’s slogan a little too literally, although it still fits what is a highly enjoyable Disney film: It’s okay to be a little chicken. As with most computer animated films which can be transferred directly to DVD, the picture quality and sound for Chicken Little are fantastic. However, I’m just a little disappointed with the transfer for the film. Chicken Little was not only released in theaters, but also saw an IMAX run as a 3-D film. Where’s that transfer? I wanted to see the 3-D version of the movie but didn’t get a chance in theaters. Now it looks like I don’t get the chance at home either. Instead what you have here is a pretty straightforward Disney DVD release: some deleted stuff, a making-of featurette, and some extra bells and whistles for the kiddies. It’s a little thin for a brand new Disney movie though.

The most interesting thing on the disc are the deleted scenes, which appear in a variety of forms, from storyboards to actual rendered footage that was cut. Most interesting are alternate openings of the movie, including a Don Knotts narrated “storybook” opening to familiarize audiences with the Chicken Little fable and a alternate version of Chicken Little entirely, when the character was a girl (overruled by Michael Eisner during his reign of terror that initiated this project in the first place). Most of the deleted material would have returned Chicken Little a little closer to his origins, with the first time he found the sky falling actually being an acorn.

The behind the scenes material lasts about 18 minutes and covers a variety of topics, from a day in the life of director Mark Dindal, who apparently is a voracious snacker, to a short featurette on the music of the movie, which includes original songs and covers by Patty LaBelle, Joss Stone, and the Barenaked Ladies. To emphasise the music there are three different versions of the Barenaked Ladies’ hit “One Little Slip” – a music video, a karaoke version, and a sing along version (don’t ask what the difference between those versions are). Disney’s latest manufactured girl-group The Cheetah Girls also have a music video included.

The remaining bonus material is a “Where’s Fish” trivia/memory game. The player answers trivia questions based on the movie, which then gives them an opportunity to find Fish in a memory style game. It’s cute but definitely for the younger audience, who will probably tire of the game after a few rounds.

No director’s commentary and that lack of the 3-D version of the film makes me wonder if Disney doesn’t have a double dip release around the corner just out of sight. I’m not one to claim the sky is falling, but it’s not like this would be the first time Disney put out a shoddy release before a better version just to catch a few extra dollars.