Remember the days when Disney’s animated films were really magical? Perhaps you laughed at the quips in “Aladdin,” were swept away by the grandeur and sentiment of “The Lion King” or sang along with “Colors of the Wind” in “Pocahontas” (OK, you really shouldn’t have done that last one). Those days seem lost; rarely has Disney of late been able to conjure animation near the level of the aforementioned favorites. Its latest attempt, “Chicken Little,” is no exception.

Film Reviews
Who knew that a Coke bottle would make such a fetching backpack? (COURTESY OF DISNEY)

It was with “Toy Story” that the trouble began; while that was a strong, even groundbreaking film, it set an unfortunate precedent. Since the advent of computer-generated animation, too much attention is paid to creating technical marvels and too little to creating compelling storylines. Certainly there have been good CG films (“Finding Nemo,” “Shrek”), but too often, such films have lacked a plot with even a hint of intelligence (see “Madagascar” or “Robots”). This is the problem with “Chicken Little,” Disney’s first attempt at CG animation without help from Pixar, the masters behind the magic achieved in “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo.”

“Chicken Little” is loosely based on the fable of the chicken who thought the sky was falling; here, the chicken is a tiny ball of feathers voiced by Zach Braff (“Garden State”). But the movie goes off in ill-advised directions, employing tired themes involving alien invasions, mean classmates and, of course, the hero’s plea of “Dad, you gotta believe me!” Though the pretty colors and cute characters keep audiences interested for a while, the lack of originality quickly brings on boredom.

Aside from the tepid storyline, “Chicken Little” suffers from a lack of all-star power that’s the norm of even lackluster animated films. Even those that are present (Braff, Joan Cusack, Steve Zahn) turn in uninspired performances. What’s more, the songs are drawn out and lack the significance, beauty or even catchiness of old-school Disney tunes. Even the animation – despite all the talk about Disney’s big debut into the world of CGI – lacks that sure-handed touch. Besides, backgrounds can only be amazing if they’re the backdrop to a compelling plot and not the focal point of attention.

It sometimes seems as if “Chicken Little” wants to be a laugh-out-loud spoof like “Shrek.” Then you’re dragged into deep family issues and personal insecurities of characters and think maybe it will be profound like “The Lion King.” Then this abrupt transition happens about 20 times in the first half of the film and you realize it’s going nowhere and wonder why you didn’t see “Wallace and Gromit” instead.

 

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

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