Plot Chicken Little (Braff) has become a figure of fun for the animal inhabitants of Oaky Oaks after creating panic with his bizarre insistence that the sky is falling. But the big-headed bantam’s paranoia eventually proves well-founded…
The held breath overwhether Disney can succeed commercially in computer animation without Pixar has already been exhaled with immense relief, with Chicken Little easily flapping its way past $100 million in America. The question over whether it has succeeded artistically doesn’t have quite such an emphatic answer.
Disney has, of course, already dabbled in CGI with 2000’s Dinosaur, which was every bit as visually awesome and ploddingly brainless as its subjects. Chicken Little, however, represents its first time taking on the same comic-caper style as its on-off stablemate. It’s far from having any of the ingenuity or dazzle of even Pixar’s early efforts, but then, it’s not really trying to.
Nowhere in this spunky little movie will you find a shot designed to make you marvel at the things they can do with those newfangled computers these days. You could criticise it for lack of ambition, for not trying to compete on Pixar’s level. But your average eight year-old, at whom this is squarely aimed, will be giving that little thought, so much the better to enjoy it for the Saturday-morning silliness that it does so well.
The story’s essential slightness is improved no end by the large number of off-the-wall twists it manages to cram into its brief running time (if you’ve managed to avoid the spoilerising trailer, at one point you’ll genuinely be scratching your head wondering what the hell is going on — quite an achievement for a Disney kids’ movie), culminating in an excellent action set-piece. The solid dialogue is pepped up by terrific background visual gags and the assembled voice cast is impressive.
Braff, Cusack and Zahn are all perfect for voiceover roles, and that the likes of Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard and Patrick Warburton fill the smallest roles speaks of the general quality. They may not have the best material to work with, but they do wonderfully with what they have.
Pixar has set the standard for cartoons that offer as much, or more, to adults as children, and anything that doesn’t swell with wry wit seems to be now rejected as a failure. Judged by those criteria, Chicken Little disappoints. Judged as the children’s film it is, it punches winningly above its bantam-weight.
Verdict Beyond a cheeky, twisty bit of genre-tinkering, there’s more here for the under-tens than over-, but it’s still charming, amusing and energetic enough to win you over.