Saturday, November 05, 2005

Chicken Little (Dindal, 2005)

Mark Dindal, the director of The Emperor’s New Groove, returns with a film that, despite being only about half as funny as its predecessor, nonetheless has enough charms to make for a worthwhile time at the cinema for the whole family. Chicken Little takes the familiar fairy tale as its starting point, but then constructs a whole new plot on top of it involving a troubled father-son relationship, a group of underdogs struggling to fit in, a budding underage romance and, naturally, alien invasion. As convoluted as it may sound, the events actually unfold in a somewhat logical manner. I very much enjoyed the explanation the filmmakers offered for Chicken Little believing that the sky was falling, as well as the reason why none of the other villagers believed him. I should also mention that the animation in Chicken Little looks simply fantastic. Each of the anthropomorphized animals has a distinct personality and is rendered with a sharpness that is truly impressive. I also very much enjoyed the environment which these characters inhabited. The town gave me a very warm, “apple pie” kind of feeling, much like the neighborhood we see at the end of the Mr. Rogers television program.

It is mostly in the humor department where Chicken Little struggles as much as it succeeds. I greatly enjoyed the Fish out of Water character, a very agreeable fellow that is able to attend classes on land because he wears a helmet filled with water. Because he cannot speak, he steals several scenes through physical humor reminiscent of Harpo Marx. This ultra-clever nod to foreign exchange students is unfortunately a rare gem amongst humor that mostly fails to generate true belly laughs. Steve Zahn’s Runt of the Litter has the most tired comedic act as he gets to be the one freaking out over every little hitch in the adventure. He is also saddled with an eye-rolling character trait – a love of Barbara Streisand and other cheese-pop which he sings to himself in times of high stress … which are many. Indeed, Dindal makes several unfortunate soundtrack choices, including the one billionth time that REM’s “End of the World As We Know It” has been played to underscore a potentially disastrous situation.

Still, despite only being mildly amused by the film’s humor, I must admit that there was something endearing about the little guy. I was invested with his quest for redemption and I felt for him as his composure began to unravel. I could have done without the intrusion of Oprah-level psychobabble coming from the Ugly Duckling urging Chicken Little to find ‘closure’ with his father; however, the basic theme of yearning for parental approval is a worthy one I think. In the end, Chicken Little skims by, producing an experience that is just good enough to recommend, but not good enough to inspire raves.



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