Review: Chicken Little

by malducin

Mark Dindal's Chicken Little, the story of a chicken that cries that the heaven is falling, marks Disney's departure from their classic 2D (cell) films into computer generated ones. ILM, under the supervision of Joel Aron, helped create the 3D (stereo) version of the film.

The Movie

The movie only follows the most basic premise of the original story: Chicken Little believes the sky is falling after something hits him (in the original story the character is female) in the head sending everyone into panic, which makes him an outcast after nothing happens. When a real emergency comes, in this film a full scale alien invasion, everyone is reluctant to believe him (even after proving his worth by winning the baseball championship). The film boasts an impressive cast of voice work, headed by Zach Braff as Chicken Little and including Amy Sedaris, Steve Zahn, Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn, Garry Marshall, Don Knotts, Patrick Stewart, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard, Catherine O'Hara, Patrick Warburton and Adam West.

Mark Dindal is probably best known for his last directorial effort: the irreverent and very funny, if underappreciated, The Emperor's New Groove. Unfortunately the story is an exact opposite of what made The Emperor's New Groove such a pleasure. Not only does the story aim strictly towards the youngest of audiences, but is not particularly funny. The level of jokes are about on par of run of the mill TV cartoons (Chicken Little loses his pants on the way to school so he uses a newspaper to fashion some) which leaves this movie blander that baby food. There are indeed a couple of funny bits, one a parody of Indiana Jones and another about the "Hollywoodization" of films which is truly hilarious (although it can also be construed as an unintentional joke of how Disney treats their productions), though they are a bit out of place since the film is not setup as a parody one (ala Shrek). Things seem to pick up when aliens start invading but when it's revealed what they have really done and why, even Lilo & Stitch feel light years ahead in maturity.

It's not that the film is bad or terrible it just seems to try way too much to not be offensive or objectionable to anyone.

The VFX

So how does Disney move to CG films look after this? Fortunately the transition is very promising. In particular the animation for the most part is as good as almost anything out there. There were times when it sometimes felt that animators were trying too hard, especially Runt of the Litter (a very fidgety and nervous character) which at times it seemed it was striking strong and extreme poses at every opportunity, which contrasted with the more subtle work in most characters. Perhaps then it's not surprising that the best character is the one that doesn't really speak, Fish Out of Water. If there's any real weakness it's the extremely generic design of most background characters which seemed to be modeled out of plush toys.

On the other hand, the 3-D version of the film, a process dubbed Disney 3D, is extremely impressive. It was created by ILM (mainly rendering the right eye of the stereo pair), Real D (digital projectors and special screen) and Dolby (file servers). The notable aspect is the use of the digital projectors which gives unprecedented clarity to the film. Since Real D doesn't use the red-blue glasses, color reproduction is impeccable as well. It's also less tiring to the eyes.

The most interesting aspect of the stereo work ILM contributed is that for the most part the 3D viewpoint of the film is behind the camera, that is the action seems to take place behind the screen. With many 3-D films the action seems to take place in front the screen which is usually coupled with many visual gags of "poking" the viewers eye and the like which usually border on the cheesy. Not so with Chicken Little. While there are a few shots where the effect is too subtle (because of the camera placement and depth of the scene) to make it mostly imperceptible, for the most part this gives a "more natural" feel to the stereo effect. It felt less gimmicky and more engrossing, even though a couple of visual gags were sprinkled throughout.

The Final Verdict

Technically and artistically Chicken Little represent a great first step for Disney CG films. Unfortunately it's marred by a by the number script which squeezed most of the life of this chicken (pun intended). It's a shame that such an impressive visual feat by the Disney crew, ILM, Real D and Dolby had to be wasted in material that felt designed by committee.