-MONTHLY VHS & DVD REVIEW-
voice cast: Zach Braff, Garry Marshall, Joan Cusack, Don Knotts, and Patrick Stewart
director: Mark Dindal
81 minutes (G) 2005 widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Buena Vista NTSC DVD Region 1 retail
reviewed by Noell Wolfgram Evans
New to DVD is the Walt Disney Studio's 'first' full-CGI animated film since they made
the decision to shutter their hand drawn feature operations and take all of their 3D
work in-house. Chicken Little came at a curious point in the storied studio's
history. When it was released theatrically, Disney was facing a messy divorce with
Pixar and seemed to be using this film to tell the world that it would be OK. Of course
things have changed considerably at Disney with the subsequent acquisition of Pixar and
it will be interesting to see how these developments treat this movie over time. Will
it be seen as a one-shot, a transitional film, the beginning of a new direction or the
end of an old one?
Chicken Little is a retelling of the classic story of the chicken that believed
the sky was falling. Thanks to Shrek though the story (and its characters) are
not so straightforward. This version is filled with updated characterisations of classic
children's story heroes (Foxy Loxy, The Ugly Duckling) and archetypes (runt of the litter,
fish out of water) that must - surprise! - work together to save the world.
This is one of the problems of the piece; there are too many secondary characters, none
of which are really well defined. Take for instance Mayor Turkey Lurkey (voiced by Don
Knotts). He's always surrounded by a secret service contingent that tells him what to do,
but why? Is this supposed to be a commentary on our political leaders, is it a throwback
to the original character? Who knows? We are continuously given these extemporaneous character
traits that don't work as throwaway gags and only add unnecessary business to the story.
An even bigger problem though is in the underdevelopment of the relationship between Chicken
Little and his father. It's interesting that this was the second 'major' animated film released
by Disney in 2006 (the other was the direct-to-disc Bambi II) that placed a spotlight
on the relationship between the father and the son. It's nice to see the father and son dynamic
being explored but, as both a father and a son, I'm not sure this spotlight is truly hitting
the mark. It feels a little... blank. For instance, in the first half of the film Buck (the
father) and Chicken Little share many moments of distance but it never felt like it was distant
enough, it didn't feel like that chasm that was said to be there was really there. So when
they shared their moment of connection it wasn't as moving as it was 'well of course that
would happen'. These kinds of deep moments about missed connections are part of what made
so wonderful. I bring that up only as a reminder that true depth is possible in this medium.
When I saw Chicken Little in the theatre I enjoyed it. But I saw it in 3D (the DVD
only has the 2D version), which definitely skewed my opinion. Taking the gimmicks away,
we're left with a feature that has promise but doesn't deliver on it. Chicken Little
tries, but just enough to say that it tried.
DVD extras: I've made, recently, an observation about the extras placed on a DVD. Where
once they were just extensions of a studio marketing-machine (and still in some small
way are) they seem to now be more an extension of the psyche of a movie's creative team.
When looked at subjectively, the exact extras on each disc actually tell more about the
filmmakers than the film. You don't even need to watch them; just a quick glimpse at what
extras are available can give you an insight into the mentality and style of the creative
team. You can put that theory to the test here. We had a movie that was (overly, perhaps)
heavily into song and was very style-over-substance. And the extras we are given include
two music videos and a karaoke segment. And I dare you to try and whistle any portion of
music from the movie five seconds after you've seen it. Exactly. There's also the obligatory
interactive game, making-of featurette (we know how you make them, we don't need these
anymore) and some deleted scenes and alternative openings.
What would be great is if (and some discs do this but far too few) a separate creative
team was given responsibility for the extras on a DVD. Then we could get an unbiased look
at a movie and instead of this extension of feeling and this unconscious guidance of thought
by the filmmaker we would have a truer, unfiltered experience of what went into getting
the story to screen.