It is a well documented fact that Pixar have changed animated film for good. It was Steve Jobs, the man responsible for the iPod, who bought what was in 1986 a small subdivision of Lucasfilm. It grew into a huge studio in its own right, churning out a string of box office successes and picking up a couple of Oscars to boot.
Not only did they reinvent the medium, they invented a new genre – a flashly animated, family friendly kids movie with enough humour and credibility to entertain adults as well. In other words, a type of film that hits almost every conceivable market sector. Needless to say, this makes animation big business.
One of the features of Pixar’s rise has been its association with Disney, formerly the biggest name in the business. Pixar produce the movies and Disney deal with the marketing, all resulting cash being split evenly. This hugely profitable association is probably the reason Disney have previously avoided making any computer animated films of their own. That all this may be about to end is probably the reason Disney are now dipping their toes into the market.
Chicken Little is the result of all these financial calculations, which unfortunately has not done much for it as a film. In the small town of Oakey Oaks the title character, Chicken Little, voiced by Zach Braff, lives out a miserable existence. The entire town has been laughing at him for the past year after what his dad refers to as the ‘unfortunate acorn incident’, when he rang the town’s alarm bell after he thought the sky was falling in. Though he claimed to have seen something amiss, no-one believes him – not even his father, Buck Cluck (Garry Marshall).
Bullied at school and distrusted at home, it seems things can’t get any worse for our hero. But when the mysterious events that prompted him ring the bell in the first place continue, only Chicken Little, along with his friends Abby Mallard (Joan Cusack) and Runt of the Litter (Steve Zahn) can save the town from destruction.
The brainchild of director Mark Dindal, Chicken Little was derived from an 18th century British cautionary parable for children, essentially a remake of the boy crying wolf. Oddly it is not even Disney’s first dalliance with the fable; in 1943 they based a propaganda short on it, warning of the perils of trusting Germans, be they chickens or otherwise.
It does borrow a lot from Pixar, but this is hardly a crime; Pixar borrowed from Disney’s animation heritage in much the same way. It is, in places, relatively entertaining. Overall, though, it is hard to recommend. The plot is at once contrived and predictable. The humour scores partial hits but never fully gets going. The voice talent is largely anonymous, though Zach Braff does add another string to his increasingly varied bow.
The main problem is the staleness of the thing. Chicken Little is essentially a reproduction of the classic animated movie formula mentioned above, without anything new added to the mix. This is something that Pixar have done before, and done better.
Disney’s distribution contract with Pixar is still being renegotiated and, with the departure of Michael Eisner, it looks possible that the two parties may find common ground, or that Disney may even buy Pixar outright. That could cost them around US$7 billion but, on the evidence of Chicken Little, it would probably be money well spent.