CHICKEN LITTLE

G

-By Harry Haun


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With its revolutionary upstart in the field of computer-animated features threatening to vroom into cash-greener pastures with the spring release of Cars, the Disney company has decided to sample life without Pixar and go into its own digital dance, taking the tentative lead with a friendly, if decidedly featherweight, feature based on the Chicken Little fable. (The movie also marks the debut of the new Disney Digital 3D process, in collaboration with Dolby and Real D, on 84 specially equipped screens.)

Director Mark Dindal and Mark Kennedy have hatched an amiable riff about a bashful, bespectacled but not-very-smart boy-chick (voiced engagingly by Zach Braff) who, apparently conked on the noggin with a falling acorn, hysterically overreacts and runs around with dire end-is-near declarations, panicking the citizenry in his picket-fenced small-town burg of Oakey Oaks and-worse, much worse-mortifying his jokey, jocky old man, Buck Cluck (Garry Marshall).

The given of this cautionary classic is faithfully reproduced as far as it goes. Then, desperately searching for redemption, the narrative starts running around like a chicken with his head cut off. Exactly like. There is a brief brush of glory on the baseball diamond for the titular Chicken, helping him to regain a modicum of respect and stature in the townfolks' eyes and soothing the bruised father-son union.

Then it develops that the sky really is falling-or at least that the aliens are coming-so who does he tell outside of his immediate coterie of compatible misfits? Whereas the baseball stint allows the cartoon to do a sly spoof of The Natural, the sci-fi turn of events gives it license to go after every Steven Spielberg movie ever made, it would seem (E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind and War of the Worlds-new as well as old).

Voice talent on board is first-rate. Marshall rates a bow for giving the rightly doubting dad a comfy inflection. Joan Cusack is quite distinctive as Chicken's ugly-duckling gal-pal, Abby Mallard. The inestimable and underused Amy Sedaris is a fun Foxy Loxy while she lasts, as is Don Knotts' Mayor Turkey Lurkey. But it's the hilarious Steve Zahn who steals everyone's thunder as a Streisand-smitten 900-pound piglet named Runt of the Litter. Indeed, that character is the film's major surprise.

-Harry Haun


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