Culture > Movies

Chicken Little

Movies | Story quality, not animation skill, is where Disney falls short of Pixar

Issue: "Riots in France," Nov. 19, 2005

Most computer-animated feature films released these days are judged against the gold standard for computer animation, Pixar. With Chicken Little there's a particularly good reason to make the comparison. It is, after all, Disney's first attempt to duplicate the unrivaled success of Steve Jobs' animation studio after severing the long-standing distribution relationship the two companies enjoyed.

What we already knew is that the wizardry at Pixar goes far beyond the artistry of its geniuses' computer animation. That technical skill, as Chicken Little proves, can be approximated. It's story quality, though, that really separates Disney from Pixar. Chicken Little is entertaining, occasionally clever, but almost instantly forgettable.

Chicken Little (rated G) expands significantly on the familiar story of the fowl who claims the sky is falling. Voiced by Zack Braff, Chicken Little causes mass hysteria after a stop-sign-shaped piece of the sky hits him on the head. At least, that's what he thinks hit him. His embarrassed dad Buck (Garry Marshall) does his best to diffuse the situation by claiming that the incident was caused by an acorn falling from a nearby oak tree.

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But this time the chicken is right. Chicken makes several failed attempts to restore his soiled reputation; it's not until the sky starts falling again, and aliens invade his small town, that Chicken really has a chance to prove himself.

Chicken Little is full of top voice talent (Don Knotts, Patrick Stewart, Joan Cusack, and Steve Zahn) and pop culture references to amuse kids and adults. But nothing much resonates on a level deeper than that. It's also frustrating to sit through yet another family film (and Pixar is actually guilty of this, too) in which the emotional climax comes when a father apologizes to his child. Perhaps the concept is just too far out, but just once it would be nice to watch a film in which it is the children who learn lessons of respect and humility.


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