Saturday, November 12, 2005

Just Saw: Chicken Little

And someone at Disney has been taking notes the past ten years, because large chunks of it felt like Lesson One in "Let's Make a Pixar-like movie." In particular, the heavy helping of father-son issues (much more heavy-handed than in any Pixar movie) seemed to be there as a plot armature simply because that's what the Other Guys have been doing. There's also a bit of DreamWorks-esque pop culture references for the adults, mostly in the '70s disco songs that "Runt of the Litter" (a rotten name, by the way) sings off and on. But when there's a chance for a payoff to that running gag, Runt's mother threatens to take away his "Streisand albums," in the triumph of a prior draft of the script. The whole thing felt like it was rushed into production about two script drafts earlier than it should have been.

I enjoyed watching it, and it's a gorgeous-looking, technically amazing, and heartfelt movie, but the general impression it left on me was of a number of interesting ideas and thoughts in search of a better plot. That may have been an inevitable consequence of choosing to do a "Chicken Little" movie, though. What I think the story needed was more time and more depth in the first act, but, in this story, that's exactly what you need to speed through (and, watching the movie, I was only semi-patiently waiting for the aliens to show up myself). If you're telling the story of Chicken Little, everybody's waiting for the sky to fall, so you need to get to the sky falling as quickly as possible. On the other hand, because of the choice this movie made for its ending (which I think was a good choice, and went a long way to unifying it thematically), the second half of the movie (aliens invade!) couldn't be that long, either. So the beginning couldn't be longer, since that's not what anybody's looking for. And the ending was already stretched out as long as it could be (and filling it with more gags or action wouldn't help, either).

Honestly, I don't think this was as successful as a movie as Brother Bear was, though that apparently was a huge failure for Disney. And Chicken Little isn't as flat-out funny and entertaining as Home on the Range was, though that movie also seems to have been a massive disappointment. If Chicken Little is a big hit, and Disney is sure betting a lot that it will be, it may just mean that the kiddy-animation audience want Kewl 3D Computer Stuff more than they want Good Stories. (We Pixar fans are betting the other horse, but, so far, Cars is not looking all that good, and it may help to prove the CGI Rulez! crowd correct if it is both lousy and very successful.)

I sound awfully negative here, but there are some very good things about Chicken Little: the animation is amazing. The ending is excellent, though, even there, the real ending is about seven minutes before the movie actually stops. And, very appropriately for a movie that's really about communication, several times a character tries to talk, to say something important, and just drops into gibberish, unable to string together words coherently. Even better, it's not Funny Movie Talk, it's authentic hemming and hawing, just like real people talk. Those bits of dialogue gave this movie a lot of leeway in my book; any movie, especially an animated movie for kids, that has its characters talking like real people, warts and all, should be recognized and celebrated.

If you've got kids (or are an animation geek), you've probably seen Chicken Little already. If you don't have kids, you probably have no plan to see Chicken Little. It's not a movie you have to see, the way The Incredibles or Finding Nemo were, but it's a solid piece of entertainment, and the kids will almost certainly like it a whole lot better than you do. (I know mine did; in a quick poll in the car afterward, both Thing 1 and Thing 2 said that they liked Chicken Little better than Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, which we saw several weeks ago and which is clearly a better movie in every sense.) But it's also not one of those horrid movies that kids love and parents can't stand to see even once, like the appalling Inspector Gadget 2. And, just maybe, this new Disney CGI animation group can learn from the stuff that's good in Chicken Little, and pick up some of the story people from the good recent Disney cell-animated movies (Range, Bear, The Emperor's New Groove, Lilo and Stitch), and have a Pixar-level movie in their next at-bat. (Gratuitous baseball metaphor in honor of the gratuitous baseball scene in Chicken Little.)

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