Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace

Does the original trilogy justice in terms of heart, action, and fun —Marty Mapes (review...)

Sponsored links

Chicken Little, now on DVD, should’ve spent a little more time in Disney’s incubator.

The Sky Is Falling!

Great picture and sound don't much help a bad movie
Great picture and sound don’t much help a bad movie

Chicken Little was Disney’s first stab at a computer-animated feature film without the smarty-pants talents at Pixar. However, now that Disney owns Pixar, Chicken Little will also go down in history as Disney’s only stand-alone attempt at a computer-animated feature.

The biggest problem with Disney’s solo foray is that it is only kinda funny and while Disney’s aim was to make smart, witty, computer-animated fare like those made by the newly acquired Pixar employees, the jokes here are out of whack.

Plundering pop culture provides the movie’s main source of comedy, which oftentimes falls flatter than a fried egg. Granted, there are some genuinely colorful, lively moments in Chicken Little, but they’re spread out between lengthy dull segments and catastrophic lapses in logic.

Barbra Streisand, for Pete’s sake, is the source of a joke that no member of the target audience will get. Yes, DreamWorks’ Shrek movies and Pixar’s entire library features humor that the kids won’t get, but they serve to keep the adults in the crowd engaged. Cracking a Streisand joke here is bound to elicit nothing more than groans from those who will admit to knowing who she is.

It’s also a sign that a movie is struggling mightily to be hip when it pulls out the Spice Girls in a karaoke scene. That’s so pre-CGI. So 1990s.

What I want, what I really, really want is to run like heck from the movie’s lightweight humor that would be more at home in the slimefest of some Nickelodeon TV show. One moment the characters are rattling off a half-dozen different words that mean “pee,” then in another moment they’re mimicking scenes from King Kong or War of the Worlds.

Holy Chicken Feed!

Also on this movie’s busy itinerary is a bit of drama. Chicken Little’s the product of a single parent home; while the fate of his mother is left untold, Chicken Little is reared by his father, who was a middle school baseball star.

Poor Chicken Little struggles for his father’s approval and the whole opening incident, with the false alarm about the sky falling, only extends the distance between father and son. Feeling the need to do something great and redeem himself in his father’s eyes, Chicken Little shuns advice to join the chess club or glee club and somehow manages to get on the baseball team.

Used primarily for warming benches, Chicken Little finally gets his big break and steps up to the plate. It’s one of a couple sequences that bend logic and fiddle with basic storytelling in order to artificially generate high drama.

While none of the characters is particularly memorable or even likable, the movie does boast a decent voice cast that includes Steve Zahn (as one of the movie’s most annoying characters, the morbidly obese Runt), Zach Braff (as Chicken Little), and Joan Cusack (as Ugly Duckling).

By far the movie’s best moments come at the very end. That’s when the previous 70 minutes are recast and Chicken Little’s adventures are brought to the big screen in a “Hollywood version” that totally rewrites everything. This over-the-top movie-in-the-movie is much more entertaining than anything preceding it.

Adam West (TV’s Batman) provides the voice for a very buff, steroid-fed Chicken Little. The characters careen around in pimped spaceships and the characters’ wimpy catch phrases are re-spun in incredibly heroic tones. In other words, it’s nothing like the real thing. If only the whole movie was done in this same bombastic, aggressive style, Chicken Little would’ve been one enormously entertaining joy ride.

DVD Extras

Crass commercialism plays a big role in Disney’s handling of Chicken Little. As witnessed in the film’s end credits, in addition to the usual “soundtrack available” line is the notification that Chicken Little video games are also available.

That crass commercialism continues on with the DVD release, which includes a 12-page booklet of “egg-cellent” offers for families. The booklet contains only one actual coupon ($1 off a box of Chicken Little bandages) and an offer for a special rate subscription to a family magazine; the rest is pure advertising. Also included is a single sample of those Chicken Little waterproof bandages. (Woo-hoo! Go out and hurt yourself, kid, so we can use this bandage!)

As for the DVD itself, the mediocre movie gets a fairly decent spin with some worthwhile supplemental materials. The best are four deleted scenes, including three alternate openings. They’re actually worth watching.

Hatching Chicken Little, an 18-minute look behind the scenes, features the usual chitchat about making the movie. Nothing’s covered here that hasn’t already been pounded on ad nauseam on any Pixar DVD.

Also included are The Cheetah Girls video for Shake Your Tail Feather and the Barenaked Ladies video for One Little Slip. That tune also sports an alternate video that is used for separate karaoke and sing-along versions.

While checking out the videos, also look for the Easter egg. On the Bonus Features menu, move down to Music & More, then move the cursor to the right – a “sky panel” will highlight. Enter here and you’ll be treated to a really lame promotional skit starring Runt and Fish.

Finally, the “Where’s Fish?” Trivia Game is a rather tedious affair in which players have to answer simple Chicken Little-related trivia questions. After answering a question correctly, you get to watch Fish dart across the screen; then you get to select the box behind which you think he is hiding.

Picture and Sound

Chicken Little features a beautiful digital transfer, enhanced for 16x9 TVs. With its 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Disney has apparently decided it wasn’t worth the trouble of marketing separate “widescreen” and full frame editions, this time (thankfully) sticking strictly to the widescreen aspect ratio presentation.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is also excellent, particularly when it comes time for the Barenaked Ladies to blast through the speakers.

The DVD also includes French and Spanish language tracks and English captions for the hearing impaired.