"Chicken Little", the newest digital animation effort from Disney, is a step in the right direction for the struggling animation company. Okay, maybe a baby step, but it is a step nonetheless. It isn't Pixar quality, but better than a lot of competing studio's efforts ("Robots") and even Disney's last few non-Pixar efforts.
The animation is decidedly stylized. Everything seems designed to resemble storybook illustrations; body parts are exaggerated or stylized, settings are quaint, vehicles are rounded and bubble like. Chicken Little and his dad live in a large home that looks like a chicken coop. This step away from attempting to make animation more realistic is interesting and a good idea, allowing the filmmakers more creative license, giving them free reign to create a world where Turkey Lurkey (Don Knotts) is the mayor and a bull runs the china shop.
Despite stepping away from realism, the use of computer animation has advanced so much that the filmmakers are able to cover Little with realistic, albeit small, feathers. All of the animals are covered with hair or feathers that would make any creature realistic, if the proportions were a little more realistic.
At the same time, this stylized animation seems ripe with merchandizing possibilities. Stuffed animals, theme park characters and more are sure to be born if the movie is successful. I realize that Disney is always trying to exploit all of their movie characters for these other revenue streams, but this is the first time I have felt like the characters were designed for these avenues first. Because it seems like everything was designed for commercial value, it detracts from the magic of watching these cute characters romping around on the screen.
The first and last twenty minutes of the film are very fast paced. The introduction of all of the characters, as Little runs a virtual obstacle course to get to school and deal with the scorn of his classmates, including Foxy Loxy (Amy Sedaris) and the finale depicting Little, his dad, and his loyal friends, saving the town, are fast paced and fun to watch. Because these two segments move so fast, it seems a bit like being on a roller coaster at Disneyland. You know there are faster roller coasters out there, but this roller coaster will give you a couple of minutes of excitement. In the middle of the day, you move on to other rides that the little kids love before maybe squeezing in another thrill ride before the end of your day.
The middle of the film, when the story kicks in, is very slow. It's not enough that Chicken Little has to deal with the scorn of his classmates and the other animals living in Oakey Oaks, he has to deal with the shame of his father. Once a great baseball hero in the town, his father is ashamed that his son has created so much excitement, for no reason. This leads Little to join the baseball team, even though he can't even lift the bat. All season, he sits on the bench, waiting for his turn at bat. Then... Wait, a minute, what part does this whole thing play in the remainder of the film? It doesn't. It simply serves as filler, to make the film over an hour long, for viable theatrical distribution. The middle slows everything way, way down.
The voice acting is good, but not brilliant. Zach Braff manages to convince us that his character is a small, little guy, who can become heroic when necessary. Joan Cusack and Steve Zahn are amusing as his sidekicks. Patrick Stewart, Wallace Shawn, Fred Willard, Catherine O'Hara, Patrick Warburton and Adam West all voice smaller, supporting characters, adding to the fun.
Because of the stylized animation and the bright colors, the film is very "cute". Maybe too cutesy-pie for adults. Disney films used to have a lot of jokes and visual puns that only the adults would get, to keep them interested while they were doing their good parental duty and taking the kids to a film they could enjoy. Recent Disney efforts have lacked this element, making it a necessary chore for parents to sit through the barrage of brightly animated images as their kids squeal and laugh. "Chicken" has little to keep the adults interested.
You can always tell when an animated film will transcend the genre and become a remembered, beloved classic. Adults without kids go to the film and laugh more than the children in the audience. "Chicken Little" won't be a classic, but your younger kids will enjoy it. Can you pay someone to take them to see it?
Or wait for the DVD which I'm sure your kids will play hundreds of times.