A big burden for a little bird
Friday, November 4, 2005
by Alex Stroup, MousePlanet editor
An awful lot is riding on the shoulder of a single little chicken. This chicken isn't expected to just entertain the kids for a little while but to also revive the future and reputation of Walt Disney Feature Animation (WDFA). In recent years, Disney has made the controversial decision to abandon traditional hand-drawn animation in favor of a full institutional push into computer-drawn animation. Opening today, Chicken Little is the first result of this decision, and a lot of people will be watching to decide if some important bridges have been burned or if Disney will never be looking back.
It should be no surprise that a film directed by Mark Dindal, who last directed the traditionally animated The Emperor's New Groove, seem to look more to Shrek than Toy Story for inspiration. Though set in a land where all the animals of the barnyard live together and have modern lives, Chicken Little is very much a film in the here and now. Chock full of pop culture jokes, one has to wonder, regardless of any other considerations, if the film can survive long in memory.
© Disney Enterprises, Inc.
The movie starts with Chicken Little stirring the town of Oakey Oaks into a panic with news that the sky is falling, that a piece of it hit him in the head. When it looks like it he was actually hit by an acorn, young Little spends the next year being ridiculed and discovering that his father considers him an embarrasment.
The first half of the movie is focused on him trying to find a way to regain his father's respect (mom, in the animated film tradition is dead) and eventually he ends up on the high school baseball team hoping to find glory.
In the second half of the film, he is once again hit in the head by a piece of the sky and this time, slowly, everybody comes to realize he is right and something major is happening. Something so major and so obviously cribbed that one of the characters goes so far as to identify the source material. In the end, Chicken Little finally gets a chance to truly earn respect, and the audience gets beaten about the shoulders with a moral so blunt only the youngest of kids won't feel bruised.
Chicken Little is not a bad movie. At the screening I attended, the children in the audience loved it and there were plenty of jokes that hit their mark with the adults. It also isn't a very good movie, and even though it comes in at just 74 minutes the dividing line between the two halves is so abrupt it feels like two episodes in a new television series. Sadly, at times the animation isn't all that great, either. The look of the movie is intentionally cartoonish, but frequently different objects on screen don't so much feel like they're sharing space as that they have simply been shown near each other. In one scene where Chicken Little's father is lying on a bed, there is no sense that dad and the bed are actually in contact.
The voice work for the movie is actually very good, but it is misused. Zach Braff (TV's Scrubs) has a distinctive voice, but it remains a voice that is too old for the part, especially when there are so many conversations between Chicken Little and his father. In meaningless bit parts, famous voices show up that is more distracting than helpful. The case of Wallace Shawn doing three or four lines left me looking around the screen for Rex from the Toy Story movies; and Chicken Little could really do without comparisons to the much stronger stories that have become the benchmark of Pixar films. The best voices are Don Knotts and Patrick Stewart, but both are relegated to a few lines as well (Stewart couldn't have been in studio long enough to get his stool warm).
© Disney Enterprises, Inc.
The movie is filled with interesting characters, and if given time they are characters that could really grow on you. Unfortunately, that relationship isn't created with this movie. Things are moving too fast to form bonds and it is hard to see Fish Out of Water selling a lot of plush at the Disney Store. It definitely has the makings for a pretty good animated television series.
People shouldn't feel burned if they go see this, especially if they bring young children, who are almost guaranteed to enjoy themselvesbut in a few years it will join Treasure Planet and Home on the Range of films you almost forget when thinking of Disney's animated movies. There are some scenes that may be too intense for young children, and several moments when it appears that characters have been killed (in a non-gory way).
This isn't an auspicious first step for the computer age at Walt Disney Feature Animation and in following in the footsteps of Dreamworks rather than Pixar, really highlights what makes the Pixar films so strong: Story first, form second. Chicken Little is much better than most of the last hand-drawn titles from WDFA, but also nowhere near as good as the best of the last 15 years of hand-drawn animation. Brother Bear was not a bad movie because it was hand drawn and would not have been made better with a computer. Similarly, Toy Story II is not a good movie because of the computers and could have been just as good if hand drawn.
Story is almost always at the heart of a good movie. It is just that, regardless of how they were drawn, and it has been a while since WDFA told a good story.
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Alex here.
Thoughts on Disney Digital 3-D
by Lisa Perkis, staff writer
The El Capitan is showing Chicken Little in what is being called Disney Digital 3-D presented in Dolby Digital Cinema. Industrial Light and Magic took the finished film and transferred it to 3-D. According to Chicken Little director Mark Dindal, "What I like about the process is that it's very comfortable to watch. It feels like the screen becomes a window instead of a wall, and you're looking behind it into this universe that really exists. It has the warmth and charm of a Viewmaster." Every guest watching the film in the 3-D format receives a pair of Chicken Little glasses in a protective plastic sleeve which they can keep. The polarized glasses are lightweight and fit like sunglasses, and are designed so that people do not have to hold their heads perfectly still to experience the 3-D effect. The movie screens used for the special showings are specially-treated so the audiences can perceive depth. People who are familiar with typical Disney 3-D effects (Muppet-Vision, Honey I Shrunk the Audience) may expect things flying out of the screen and hovering inches from their faces. In fact, the 3-D film uses very few "startle effects." The new digital process is mainly used to make the images richer and deeper.
The 3D glasses provided are much more comfortable than the standard cardboard 3D glasses. Photo by Lisa Perkis.
Did I like it? Yes, very much. I'm not a big fan of the gimmicky old-style 3-D films; the glasses were irritating, I would feel slightly motion sick while watching unless I held my head still like a mannequin, and the story line would always involve me ducking out of the way of a giant boulder or pole thrust out into the audience. This film approaches 3-D in a totally new way: 3-D Chicken Little is just the same as standard Chicken Little, just deeper, sharper, and more detailed. After a while I forgot I was even wearing the glasses they were so comfortable. The downside to the 3-D aspect may be that young kids will not stand for wearing glasses for the entire movie, even the cool neon green Chicken Little ones, and will pull them off. The film is slightly blurry without the glasses, as with all 3-D films, so all the crisp digital images will be lost on them. My kids were actually unhappy to hear they were going to a 3-D showing of Chicken Little. They refuse to see Honey I Shrunk the Audience at Disneyland for fear of objects jumping out at them, and they assumed this film would be in the same vein. After a little coaxing, they tried wearing the glasses, and ended up liking the visual effects very much since they were so low key.
Abby Mallard and Chicken Little make appearances at each screening of Chicken Little. Photo by Lisa Perkis.
Scare factor warning for parents
The following includes a spoiler about the movie plot. To read the text, please click in the following box and highlight the text.
The climatic alien invasion scene is pretty intense for young kids. Main characters are seemingly vaporized by very menacing-looking spidery robots. A lot of screaming and explosions to be had. I saw more than one parent carrying their 3-4 year old out of the theatre at that point. Everything ends up peachy keen in the end, but just be aware that things get pretty loud and intense during the last third of the film.
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Lisa here.
Alex Stroup is a degreed librarian with an undergraduate degree in history. An avid reader, movie buff, and devoted information junkie, Alex currently lives and works in the Northern California Bay Area. Alex is also the CEO of MousePlanet.
Click here to contact Alex.