Considering an egg-hatching analogy, it only seems appropriate that the first feature film from Disney's brand new, in-house division for computer-generated films would be none other than "Chicken Little." Thematically related to the boy who cried wolf, it's an age-old tale originally designed as a cautionary exercise to keep kids from fibbing and/or making alarmist claims.
As adapted for the big screen by Steve Bencich & Ron J. Friedman and Ron Anderson, the plot has been "Disney-fied," featuring an underdog character with a widowed father who doesn't understand his boy's needs and/or wants. Then, perhaps to the surprise of Steven Spielberg and the late H.G. Wells, it takes a detour down the path of yet another "War of the Worlds" story.
And that includes, coincidently or not, visual representations of the octopus-like pod mechanisms that wreck havoc on the town. Of course, while some of that may be a little (or a lot) too intense for some younger viewers, all turns out well in the end in this film that's obviously designated and designed for that younger set.
As with many other such genre entries, the release contains various movie and cultural references (including, to no one's surprise, Disney properties ranging from "The Lion King" to "Toy Story's" Buzz Lightyear and even a Mickey Mouse watch -- albeit with a slight visual twist). While they thankfully don't run amok throughout the production (unlike the period songs and montages that do), they're more cute than clever or funny.
In fact, the overall film could be classified that way. Never up to the vaunted status of Pixar's previous collaborative releases with Disney or DreamWorks "Shrek" films, it does have an undeniable adorableness that works in its favor in terms of characters and the overall visual look. The latter is nowhere near the quality of the aforementioned films, and while what's present is decent, it's not of the "Wow!" quality that keeps moving up a notch in each of the competitors' subsequent releases.
As far as the story and characters within the movie, they're all rather cute, but that's about it. Much of that cuteness stems directly from the title character. An animated archetype, he's the standard cartoon "nerd" with the tiny body, big head and huge glasses (and equally big drive).
Purposeful or not, he's rather similar to an equally nerdy and diminutive character -- Egghead Jr. -- who once appeared with Foghorn Leghorn back in one (or more) of those old Looney Tunes cartoons where those nerdy but well-intentioned actions got under the skin of the "adult" rooster. Here, the dad character plays that role, but the comedy chemistry between the two isn't constructed as well. Of course, said moments in this film are designed as the tug at the heartstring material that will probably work on some viewers, but is too trite to really having any true emotional power on everyone else.
Director Mark Dindal tries to bring the same frenetic zaniness to this effort like he did with "The Emperor's New Groove" back in 2000. While it does have a certain Looney Tunes feel to it, the results aren't as successful as those shorts or Dindal's previous effort. And that's mainly because the story -- while competent and certainly not taxing for younger viewers' minds to process -- doesn't ever escape its mediocrity and familiarity.
While the various personalities may be different in their particular characteristics (and visual appearance), they're all standard character types including the wise best friend, the goofy and overreactive pal and the cute but mostly mute little guy. Accordingly, and despite some decent vocal talent providing their voices (with Zach Braff, Joan Cusack and Steve Zahn in the leads and the likes of Don Knotts, Adam West, Catherine O'Hara and Fred Willard doing the supporting bits), they simply don't pop off the screen (notwithstanding any of the 3-D effects should that pertain to them) as often occurs in other such genre releases.
Considering what Disney's managed to crank out in its two previous periods of animated greatness, or that this is their first salvo, if you will, at its competitors in the computer-generated field, this release has to be considered something of a disappointment. It's not horrible, and that cute factor does manage to keep the heavens from crashing down on the production. But it should and could have been so much better than it is.