"Oh, we surrender! Here, take the key to the city!"
–Mayor Turkey Lurkey facing Alien Invaders
From the moment I saw the first of many teasers for this movie in theaters, (I think it was before The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy), I knew it would be a movie I would be taking pains to avoid. From those brief glimpses, and the later more detailed trailers, it looked liked the folks at Disney were really scraping the bottom of the barrel in trying to stay on the CGI band wagon kick started by their once and future partners Pixar.
Let's face it: the classic fable of the scared chicken crying that the sky is falling is hardly enough on which to build a full length movie. The fact that the final running time came in at a scant 81 minutes seems to back up that theory.
Sure enough, the movie opens with a retelling of the classic tale when it is revealed that the "falling sky" was probably an acorn, with resultant humiliation for the small bird and his father, the one-time sports champion and small town hero.
The real meat of the story picks up a year later and basically becomes a mix between your typical high-school rite-of-passage movie, combined with the "nerds' revenge" and an alien invasion thrown in for good measure.
The pay off being that the "piece of sky" that fell was actually the panel off a cloaked space ship, and the aliens are back searching for one of their own kids who is lost. Of course it's up to Chicken Little and his stereotyped gang of buddies to save the day. I think we have almost every type of alienated kid on display here and the symbolism is so obvious that they may as well have hit you over the head with it -- aside for the titular scared small chicken, there's the brainy, awkward girl who just happens to be an ugly duckling, the large fat kid is, of course, a pig, and there's the misunderstood kid who is a literal fish-out-of-water.
All this seems to back up my initial impressions of the movie, so why the 6 out of 10 rating?
Because on top of all the clichés, the thin plot and the stereotyping, the writers and production crew built an entertaining romp full of character. The script has some witty one-liners, most spoken by various members of the supporting cast, along side some seriously poignant character defining exchanges. As a parent, some of the scenes between Chicken Little and his father had a definite resonance; while my kids totally related to the high school clique angle.
As is the trend with most work coming out of the animation studios these days – which, let's face it, are staffed with geeks like us -- the movie is packed with pop-culture references and cameos. The last scene in which "Hollywood" decides to remake Little's "true story" as a Star Trek-type space opera had me in stitches.
In the end I was pleasantly surprised by the movie, and found myself enjoying it for what it was -- good family fun. Sure, it wasn't mind stretching, thought provoking, spectacular, nor in any way original. But it was fun.
The DVD release comes with Disney's annoying "FastPlay" feature that drops you straight into innumerable commercials for their other products before you have even had the chance to hit the "menu" button. Once you manage to regain control, the navigation is fairly straightforward, as it should be, on what is after all a kids' DVD. There isn't much in terms of extra features: three music videos, an insanely simple interactive game, a brief "making of" featurette, and one deleted scene. Perhaps the most interesting feature is a look at three alternate opening sequences which give a look at the different approaches the creative team were considering for the tone of the movie. Overall, it's a fairly sub-standard package compared with most of today's DVD releases.
The Movie Itself: 6 out of 10
The DVD Features: 4 out of 10