With its hand-drawn animation division boarded up and its profitable partnership with Pixar having crashed and burned, Walt Disney Pictures -- with no small measure of fanfare -- has taken the next step by creating its own fully computer-animated movie. The headache-inducing preview for Chicken Little promised a disaster, though surely no one at Disney was sweating: After all, this is guaranteed to rake in some serious bank, since lazy parents will inevitably shuffle toward a familiar brand name than risk anything as unfamiliar as, say, the current Wallace & Gromit feature film (doing OK if unremarkable business).
Yet if Chicken Little represents the future of Disney animation, then the sky is indeed falling: This is as far removed from such old-school classics as Pinocchio and Beauty and the Beast as roast duck is from chicken gizzards.
The plot of this frantic tale is serviceable, centering on a diminutive bird (voiced by Zach Braff) whose warnings about an impending alien invasion are ignored by the other anthropomorphic animals in the town of Oakey Oaks. And to be fair, the film has its moments, most of them arriving courtesy of a supporting character known as Fish Out of Water. A mischievous type who never utters a single word, he's like a cartoon version of Harpo Marx, earning laughs through his aberrant behavior and perpetual cheeriness.
But the central thrust of Chicken Little -- a standard "underdog wins the day" slog that on a dime turns into War of the Worlds -- is the same sort of hollow experience that has all but drained the traditional toon tale of its potency over the past decade-plus. And what do we make of the annoying character of Runt of the Litter (voiced by that annoying actor Steve of the Zahn), a mincing porker who's known for his Streisand collection and affinity for diva tunes (e.g. Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive") yet who in the waning moments inexplicably falls for a giggly female classmate with the emotional constitution of a 4-year-old? The kids won't understand any of it, leaving parents to scratch their heads and wonder if the film is really advocating pedophilia over homosexuality.