Thursday, February 25, 2010

#46: Chicken Little (2005)

"Chicken Little," more than any other Disney film, reminds me that the company truly is a business first, for many reasons. As you should know, it's the first CG film by the company; after a string of traditionally animated failures, Disney decided to trade in paper for PC, following the trend of the more lucrative films of DreamWorks, Blue Sky, and their very own Pixar. Speaking of Pixar, Disney was in danger of losing their ties with the company, whose contract was nearly up and sour relations between the two left Pixar with many other companies vying to do business. This was Disney's shot to show that they could be just as big a heavy-hitter in the CG film market as Pixar, and the relationship between the two companies was at a stand-still during "Little"'s release. And to top it all off, of course, this film acted as a marketing machine: loads of merchandise, ads popping up everywhere, a cameo in 'Kingdom Hearts II' far in advance, and a Macy's parade balloon: Chicken Little was everywhere. Disney was pushing as hard as it could to assure their efforts not be in vain. And the result? ...not bad. The film grossed more than their previous 2D efforts, but failed to reach the high numbers Pixar normally raked in, which lead Disney to eventually buy Pixar for themselves, and making Pixar head John Lasseter a Disney animation head. So what about the film? Sure it may be a film heavily influenced by commercial viability and industry standards. It could still be good, right? ...right?
Chicken Little, a meek, awkward middle-school chicken thing, claims a piece of the sky hit him on the head, but nobody believe him, making him the laughing stock of the entire town. Little is crest-fallen, and is determined to prove himself as worthy, particularly to his dad, whom he's not exactly too close to. Ignoring the advice of his friend Abby (the ugly duckling) to talk to his dad straight out, Little tries out for the baseball team, which does manage to get him back into his dad's good graces for the time being. It's then when another piece of the sky hits Little, a hexagonal shape that he and his friends find is actually camouflage for an alien ship. What follows is a full-on alien invasion on the town, but Little knows exactly what the aliens are after, and it's up to him to stop them.
"Chicken Little" is a very painful movie, for all the reasons I mentioned above, which all fall under one simple fact: it made Disney a follower. Seventy years ago Walt defied all who laughed at him about making a full-length animated film, but he did it. "Fantasia" sounded laughable, but he did that too. Even though I'm not a huge fan of the Disney Renaissance, it was new and different at the time, and has since been heavily copied and parodied. Disney, for better or for worse, was always a company that set the bar for the competition, but now with "Little" they had been reduced to following the crowd, not only with converting to CG, but through the film's content as well. Taking a cue from films like "Shrek," this movie is filled with every single horrible element that plagues modern animation today: pop culture references (a lot of them dated), old 70s songs and dance numbers, scatological humor, LOTS of superfluous and meaningless dialogue, tired sight gags, gimmicky characters, and humor aiming for the lowest possible targets. There's really no reason why I need to discuss WHY these things are bad, because really all I have to do is mention a few of these so-called jokes: characters sing Spice Girls karaoke, have a long-winded exchange listing euphemisms for urine, make elaborate references of the likes of "King Kong" and "Indiana Jones" with no relevance to the plot, and lift a lot of the final invasion scenes and spectacle from "War of the Worlds." All of this is supposed to be clever and funny... but couldn't be further from approaching either.
There's nothing I can think of that could even possibly have saved this picture. There's no real story here, with the alien plot feeling like a simplistic and overly pathetic attempt to modernize the old fable and make it more hip. Plus there's so much padding, the entire baseball "subplot" could basically have been cut out with no effect on the story, which would end up making the movie about forty-five minutes long. Regardless of the length, this thing just drags and drags; moments that are meant to be silly and madcap end up getting bogged down with excessive dialogue, and when the movie feels it needs to slow down for drama between father and son, you can literally hear tires screeching to a halt as we are graced with more scenes building us to our tired and boring moral center. Everything about the film feels like it was picked through with a fine-toothed comb by executives, lifting material for more popular films, testing demographics, and focus groups to create a highly lucrative property, rather than a film, leaving all creatively involved in the project to just sit back and take orders. There's nothing here that feels like a director's vision, or a cartoonist's personal touch; it's all processed, cold and sterile. And not funny. Did I mention that?
Verdict? It's all just very sad... I could go on complaining, but what more is there to say. "Chicken Little" is a movie made for business reasons only: a CG bonanza less concerned with being an entertaining movie than recycling the elements of the more lucrative films of the time, leaving you with a hollow entity of what seems to resemble a Disney film. It's crude, ugly, tired, cloying, pathetic, derivative, and above all... depressing. Pandering to the lowest common denominator, the only positive I can see from this is that the company couldn't possibly stoop any lower with their feature films. And luckily... they didn't.

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