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Chicken Little DVD Review

Chicken Little (2005) movie poster Chicken Little

Theatrical Release: November 4, 2005 / Running Time: 81 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Mark Dindal

Voice Cast: Zach Braff (Chicken Little), Garry Marshall (Buck Cluck), Joan Cusack (Abby Mallard), Steve Zahn (Runt of the Litter), Dan Molina (Fish Out of Water), Don Knotts (Mayor Turkey Lurkey), Fred Willard (Melvin - Alien Dad), Catherine O'Hara (Tina - Alien Mom), Sean Elmore, Evan Dunn, Matthew Josten (Kirby - Alien Kid), Patrick Stewart (Mr. Woolensworth), Wallace Shawn (Principal Fetchit), Harry Shearer (Dog Announcer), Patrick Warburton (Alien Cop), Adam West (Ace - Hollywood Chicken Little), Mark Walton (Goosey Loosey), Mark Dindal (Morkubine Porcupine, Coach), Joe Whyte (Rodriguez, Acorn Mascot, Umpire), Will Finn (Hollywood Fish), Dara McGarry (Hollywood Abby), Mark Kennedy (Hollywood Runt)

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When is a movie more than a movie? Usually, when its subject matter holds great relevance to society. In the past two years, there are only a few instances where a film being met with large audiences has merited news coverage beyond the entertainment pages. That's par for the course. Two examples: the 2004 box office successes of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 spoke not just about the movies themselves, but of the moviegoing public and their religious and political beliefs.

For Disney fans, Chicken Little was more than just a movie. That was due less to its content than to its context and its medium. This G-rated anthropomorphic animals comedy became the first fully-computer-animated production to emanate from Walt Disney Feature Animation and it did so a few years after management had mandated that the division phase out the traditional 2-D animation it had long been known for. Furthermore, Chicken Little did not seem
to arrive in the studio's 70-year traditional of cartoon features, but in the vein of the CGI films of DreamWorks that had wound up among the year's top-grossers whether or not they had critics on their side. The irony was unmistakable and tough to swallow for those who had kept faith in the studio through flops like Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Home on the Range. Exactly ten years after a Disney feature failed to outgross its record-setting predecessors, the studio had turned to technically and structurally modeling their work after output from other studios that the public had taken to.

At least this film has, like many classic Disney animated features and shorts, a well-known source at its core. Though its exact origins are unknown, chances are you have heard the story of Chicken Little, a diminutive fowl who is struck by an acorn and misinterprets the event as indicating that the sky is falling. That fable provides a starting point of sorts for this vastly expanded and reconfigured take. Chicken Little here is an undersized middle school boy (voiced by Zach Braff) who has a large, unflattering reputation to live down following his (widely-believed) misguided panic.

Chicken Little interacts with his fellow oddball Oakey Oaks Middle School students. There is a father/son story here, between Buck Cluck and Chicken Little.

In an effort to help the various animal residents of Oakey Oaks forget his much-repeated blunder and to earn the respect of his towering single father Buck Cluck (Garry Marshall, best known for his sitcom creations and film direction), Chicken Little joins his hometown's baseball team. Like a number of the movie's sequences, this brief, self-standing chapter seems to operate on a plane separate from the whole. A game-winning home run later, Chicken Little has found redemption and the arc seems to have completed, less than a half hour in.

Then another object falls from the sky onto Chicken Little and this time, there is little doubt that it is neither a piece of the sky nor an acorn. It is a hexagonal piece of foreign wizardry which repeatedly replicates its settings more effectively than even a chameleon could. This triggers a second half/climax which invokes, naturally, the extraterrestrial element not exactly kept secret in marketing. With our pint-sized protagonist wary of how the townsfolk will respond to his second extraordinary discovery, he enlists the help of his schoolmates, a colorful band of eccentrics which include the obese, neurotic pig Runt of the Litter (Steve Zahn), the self-explanatorily named Fish Out of Water, and Abby "Ugly Duckling" Mallard (Joan Cusack), a bucktoothed duck who holds some sage advice and a crush for Chicken Little. Together, it is up solely to the kids to figure out what is going on and why spaceships are suddenly descending upon their small town.

Though seemingly overlong and, like the rest of the film, not overly clever, this supernatural stretch does succeed in creating a degree of suspense. That helps to provide some sensation for viewers because despite many efforts, there are very few laughs to be found both in and out of this bulky span. A father/son angle attempts to ground the extreme proceedings, but the entire affair feels quite uneven. The same might be said of The Emperor's New Groove, the first Disney animated feature to employ Mark Dindal and Randy Fullmer as director and producer. But where that dazzled with a broad, irreverent sense of humor and even got away with slight sentimentality through its investable story, the randomness here feels far more calculated and far less satisfying.

A baseball sequence provides a detour. Chicken Little shows off his hexagonal find.

That is not to say this is a terrible film. Pitting it next to the other animation that Disney released to theaters last year, Chicken Little does not really fare a great deal better or worse. It aspires to more than the underwhelming Pooh's Heffalump Movie did, and though it is not as amusing as the Vanguard-created Valiant, its characters are at least far easier to identify and recall. (Though outside of Chicken Little himself,
they're tough to warm to, and the overly goofy adult voices do not help.) The Academy doesn't get much right, but Studio Ghibli's Howl's Moving Castle was clearly more deserving of a nomination in the bone-throwing Best Animated Feature category than the rest. Disney can only take credit for the English dubbing of that, although that's more than the studio is due on Valiant.

Still Valiant lends itself to the best comparison with Chicken Little and not merely because it too is a computer-animated comedy. In a showdown between the petite but plucky birds, it's fascinating to consider how differently they performed at the box office and how little that speaks of the films themselves. Valiant had the distinctions of being both the first British and least expensive computer-animated feature widely released to theaters. Disney's responsibilities were strictly limited to North American distribution and out of an apparent desire not to overshadow their own in-house film, Valiant was given "too little, too late" promotion, buried in a rarely lucrative mid-August opening, and shown in an unusually light order of 2,000 theaters. Chicken Little, on the other hand, had been advertised on Disney DVDs beginning in March 2004 (turning up on nearly all the studio's 2005 discs), enjoyed a marketing blitz through all of the company's avenues, had a place in both the 2004 and 2005 Macy's Thanksgiving Day parades, and bowed in 3,650 theaters. (At least two of those claims may be due to the fact that Chicken Little, once set to open on July 1st, assumed the early November opening of Pixar's Cars when it was bumped seven months.)

With an undeserved but seemingly choreographed weak box office performance, Valiant ended up with a record-setting low $19.5 million. (This has since been "outdone" by The Weinstein Company's dubbed bomb Doogal.) It took Chicken Little just one and a half days to tally more than Valiant did on this continent. In promotions for this DVD release, Chicken Little is being touted as "Disney's #1 Animated Movie of 2005", but in reality, the movie earned domestically just a bit more than half of what The Incredibles and Monsters, Inc. did opening the same time in 2004 and 2001. Respectable though Chicken Little's intake may have been, it paled next to 2002's Lilo & Stitch and Dinosaur, Disney's mostly CG-animated 2000 flick which has (justly or not) earned the reputation of being a flop for the studio.

Abby Mallard and Runt of the Litter are the two of Chicken Little's classmates we get to know best. Here, they illustrate their outsider status with some Spice Girls karaoke. Where do you come from, little visitor?

You've probably just read more about Chicken Little's box office gross than you care to, but I'm not spouting off these numbers for no reason. Disney's move towards computer animation seems undoubtedly to be fueled by the bottom line, due to dwindling theatrical returns on traditionally-animated works and undeniably attractive numbers put up by the CGI films of Pixar, DreamWorks, and Blue Sky. Such a goal is on display in Chicken Little, where it seems like every demographic was targeted at some point, as if test panels and industry research dictated this movie more than Mark Dindal. Famous pop songs are thrown in with little rhyme or reason, puns and word gags are lobbed to adults with the subtlety and effectiveness of a bad softball pitcher. This nature of the film was never overbearing enough to make me hate it, but I had trouble finding anything to break a straight face. Art doesn't happen from market studies, cross-promotion possibilities, and imitation. That Chicken Little never ends up being anything greater than semi-satisfying underscores that. One can only hope that be they CGI, 2-D, stop-motion, or claymation, Disney's future animated films can keep the "show" before the "business."

Buy Chicken Little on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
Release Date: March 21, 2006
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

With deep pockets, a brand new production, and a direct digital source, Disney would have had to make conscious efforts for Chicken Little to be lacking in the video or audio departments. If they did, I didn't notice them. Chicken appears in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, making use of every pixel available to serve up eye candy. While the animation isn't without its shortcomings (it lacks the detail and realism of Pixar as well as a solid artistic reason to justify that), the transfer itself is, as you'd expect, fairly flawless.
Rather than mention everything that didn't go wrong, let's just say that all looks fine. There's a pristine element, excellent detail, solid sharpness, and so on and so on. If a double dip opportunity arises, Disney could tout a higher bitrate the way Pixar did for their 2005 re-releases of the Toy Story movies. But like those Toy stories, in all fairness, this doesn't appear to leave any room for visual improvement within the DVD medium.

As far as sound goes, there are Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks offered in English, French, and Spanish. Most probably only care about English, which is good because that's all I listened to. It has plenty of bang to it, with lots of directionality and a wide soundfield. The story's supernatural elements lend themselves to neat sound effects which do deliver. The dialogue sounds about as good as animated dialogue can. Finally, it they may not be the perfect aural complement, the pre-recorded pop-heavy musical soundtrack is dutifully presented. Perhaps the inclusion of a DTS could have bolstered this package (and maybe it will in a few years from now or on a next-generation format), but this Dolby track will not leave very many folks disappointed on its merits alone.

Buck Cluck tries to make breakfast in this deleted scene. The Cheetah Girls sing "Shake a Tail Feather" in this music video. It's just too bad Raven realized the group was for a TV movie, not for serious. In the set-top game "Where's Fish", you alternate between finding Fish Out of Water and answering simple trivia questions.

BONUS FEATURES

Despite becoming the second highest-grossing film Disney Feature Animation has released this decade, Chicken Little is treated to only a single disc release and a fairly lightweight one at that. The first section, Deleted Scenes, offers four partially-animated sequences which run, with the optional explanatory introductions by producer Randy Fullmer and director Mark Dindal, 13 minutes and 22 seconds. Each discarded piece offers something interesting. There's a 2D-animated storybook opening narrated by Don Knotts. A long, strange bit features Buck trying to make breakfast while watching a German wolf TV chef named Klaus, which leads into a breaking news report of interest (and footage which appeared in the film's first teaser, which is naturally not included). Another alternate opening finds Chicken
Little as a bow-wearing girl (voiced by an uncredited Holly Hunter). Finally, the fourth showcases unseen lunchroom antics of Fish Out of Water and Runt of the Litter. Oddly absent from both the film and this section are at least two lines that were repeated in the endless marketing barrage.

In Music & More, four bonuses are found, three featuring the film's title song "One Little Slip." First, there's an annoying 3-minute music video for "Shake Your Tail Feather", performed by The Cheetah Girls, the first (and hopefully last) group spawned by a Disney Channel Original Movie. It at least shows more effort than the second video, the Barenaked Ladies' (there are words you didn't expect to find on a Disney DVD!) "One Little Slip", which finds the band members isolated in glass chambers recording the song at the studio, with the occasional film clip edited in. If you like the song, but not the video, the final two bonuses may suit you better. They feature (in glorious 16x9) a montage of the film's characters dancing along on airborne hexagons while lyrics on the bottom aid you in pursuit of either karaoke or singing along with the "Ladies." Falling hexagon pieces and bouncing acorns keep the pace in each 3-minute video. If you watch them all in succession, it's safe to say you might be sick of "One Little Slip."

Games & Activities offers just one of the former and none of the latter. "Where's Fish?" is part trivia game, part "find Fish" challenge. The former is easy, the latter is even easier, leaving this one set-top adventure of little value to anyone above the age of, say, 7. You have the choice to either go back-and-forth with another player or to simply answer as many out of six questions on your own. Either way, you'll quickly find some repeat questions out of the limited supply.

The last but definitely not least listing is the Backstage Disney section, which holds just a single 18-minute featurette titled "Hatching Chicken Little", or five short vignettes if you want to think of them (and play them) in that fashion. As you can gather from the long-winded section titles ("The Incubation Period: The Story Behind the Story", "Cracking New Ground", "Birds of a Feather: The Voices Behind the Characters", "Rock-A-Doodle-Doo: The Music of Chicken Little", and "Ruling the Roost: A Day in the Life of the Director"), each focuses on an aspect of production, covering story, animation, voice talent, music, and the director. Repeated efforts to depict Chicken Little as the latest chapter of a legacy that includes Fantasia, Alice in Wonderland, Goofy shorts, and so on are not in the slightest believable, but it's a bit refreshing to see the subjects at least claim not to have forgotten the studio's rich history. The juiciest revelation found here is that Michael Eisner dictated that the title character be a boy, not a girl. Otherwise, it's a pretty standard piece, with lots of name-dropping, tidy sound bites, and praise-dispatching, with a few candid insights into production. Like the movie itself, the jokey atmosphere that Fullmer and Dindal bring to the bonuses seems less spontaneous and more choreographed than what turned up on The Emperor's New Groove DVD.

Two Easter Eggs are fairly easy to spot from the Main and Bonus Features menus. They are laughless minute-long animated spots about the movie featuring Foxy Loxy in one, Runt of the Litter and Fish Out of Water in the other. At least they're easy to access, because their minimal payoffs do not deserve a lot of effort.

While the slate here is clearly not empty and offers more substance than some Disney cartoons have received, it's a far cry from the types of two-disc sets given to both hits (Tarzan) and underperforming films (Atlantis: The Lost Empire) just a few years ago. At the very least, it would have been all too easy to include various trailers from the heavy marketing campaign which ran for nearly two years. And having the key players sit down for an 80-minute audio commentary doesn't seem like a lot for fans and animation enthusiasts to ask of a 4-year production. But I'll be good and spare you another lack-of-supplements rant.

Producer Randy Fullmer and director Mark Dindal host the two bonus sections you'll return to. Chicken Little was once a girl, voiced by Holly Hunter. In addition to the alternate opening included, there are glimpses of other scenes seen in "Hatching 'Chicken Little'." The animated Main Menu screen makes use of the out-of-this-world hexagon.

MENUS and PACKAGING

The 16x9 menus are fairly basic. The Main screen employs the still-capturing hexagon and antics from Fish Out of Water as Oakey Oaks traffic appears in the back. The Bonus Features menu offers a distant baseball environment. The rest of the screens are equipped with John Debney's score but no animation. At least the cursor icons (a bell, an acorn, a helmet, and a sky hexagon) are inspired.

Like just about every animated Disney DVD released these days, Chicken Little features Disney's FastPlay, which makes remote control use optional. Like just about every DVD of any kind, the disc opens with previews for other properties. These promote The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition, The Wild, Dumbo "Special" Edition, and AirBuddies. The Sneak Peeks menu holds additional promos for Cars, Howl's Moving Castle, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Brother Bear 2, and "That's So Raven" on the Disney Channel.

Inside the standard black keepcase, one finds three things: a Chicken Little Nexcare waterproof tattoo bandage (one of five designs) with coupons, a double-sided insert which maps out the modest "Feather-Ruffling Fun" and twenty scene selections, and a mini booklet which offers more ads than the "Egg-cellent savings" promised. More notable than the random eggs and popcorn promotions is news that a 25th Anniversary Edition of The Fox and the Hound is due this summer. Slipcover fans will be disheartened to find no such thing here; the all-important cardboard cover reproduction seems to be reserved for direct-to-video sequels and re-releases.

Chickens like to sing Queen songs and use flashlights as spotlights. The residents of Oakey Oaks witness strange things afoot.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Like Home on the Range, momentarily the last traditionally-animated work from Disney Feature Animation, Chicken Little makes for a pretty unspectacular first all-computer-animated effort for the studio. It's not a bad movie, but it's definitely not a great one either. The mediocre nature of the final product seems to have been dictated by demographic appeals, test panels, and management interests, which leave the viewer thinking that financial success was more of a goal than artistic. Even if you can lay aside those unsavory ponderings inherent to show business, the film just doesn't readily entertain in the ways it attempts to. It comes off as an uneven hodgepodge, where the embraced styles of DreamWorks and Pixar are transparently emulated and only crumbs of Disney's storytelling sensibilities are thrown in. That's kind of a sad state for a studio that was largely the industry leader not long ago. Still, it's overdramatic to classify Chicken Little as anything more than a CG comedy which did not meet its potential. Like Range, it's not tolling the death of Disney Feature Animation or revealing weariness in the medium, at least not single-handedly. It's merely a mild misstep which will probably age and be forgotten more quickly than most.

Disney's DVD finds the same unfulfilling middle ground as the movie, which is perhaps more surprising based on the film's decent theatrical performance. The music videos and game are things that most won't return to, leaving just a genuinely interesting lot of deleted scenes and a standard featurette as the only added value. As expected, the picture and sound quality are superb. Overall, this light disc does leave room for a souped-up special edition, but based on the studio's current release trends, I wouldn't count on it. Either way, this Chicken Little DVD isn't a must-own by any standard. Unless you are a completist, constantly looking for new ways to show off your home theater, already crazy about the film or able to find it at a very low price (as of publishing, Amazon currently has it for under $16), then a rental should probably suffice.

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Related Reviews:
This Decade's Animated Films:
Bolt (2008) • Meet the Robinsons (2007) • The Wild (2006) • Valiant (2005) • Dinosaur (2000)
Cars (2006) • The Incredibles (2004) • Up (2009) • WALL•E (2008) • Ratatouille (2007)
Planet 51 (2009) • Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) • Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
Lilo & Stitch (2002) • The Princess and the Frog (2009) • Treasure Planet (2002) • Home on the Range (2004) • Brother Bear (2003)
Finding Nemo (2003) • Howl's Moving Castle (2005) • Ponyo (2009) • Pooh's Heffalump Movie (2005) • Recess: School's Out (2001)

From Director Mark Dindal: The Emperor's New Groove (2000) - "The Ultimate Groove" Collector's Edition | The New Groove Edition

The Voice Cast of Chicken Little:
Zach Braff (Chicken Little): Scrubs: The Complete First Season (2001-02) • Scrubs: The Complete Eighth Season (2009)
Joan Cusack (Abby Mallard): Toy Story 2 (Special Edition) • Ice Princess (2005)
Garry Marshall (Buck Cluck): The Princess Diaries (2001) • The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004) • Hocus Pocus (1993)
Don Knotts (Mayor Turkey Lurkey): The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975) • Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977) • Hot Lead & Cold Feet (1978)
Wallace Shawn (Principal Fetchitt): Teacher's Pet (2004) • Toy Story (10th Anniversary Edition) • The Haunted Mansion (2003)
Patrick Stewart (Mr. Woolensworth): Bambi II (2006)

New and Recent Disney & Disney-Related DVDs:
Modern Marvels: Walt Disney World (2005) • Lady and the Tramp (1955) (Platinum Edition) • The Shaggy Dog (1959)
Remember the Titans (2000) (Director's Cut) • Dream On Silly Dreamer (2005) • Goof Troop: Volume 1 (1992)

Disney's 1943 short Chicken Little: Walt Disney on the Front Lines • Disney Rarities • Walt Disney Animation Collection: Three Little Pigs

Related CD Reviews: Chicken Little Soundtrack • Chicken Little Read-Along • Disney's Karaoke Series: Chicken Little

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Reviewed March 19, 2006.