Aliens and chickens aren't two words I ever thought I'd see in the sentence, let alone serve as the basis for a big Hollywood animated movie. So when I first heard about 'Chicken Little,' I had my doubts. Would Disney -- in their first all-CGI effort outside of the Pixar fold -- be able to pull off such a crazy mash-up of an idea, or would this be another high-concept disaster on the order of such animated boondoggles as 'Treasure Planet' or 'Titan A.E.?'
As it turned out, the result landed somewhere in-between. While 'Chicken Little' failed to launch Disney's homegrown CGI division to Pixar-level heights, it also didn't launch the gigantic, computer-generated egg that some had predicated. In the end, it was just another one of those cutesy animated family flicks that kind of comes and goes, earning quite respectable grosses but quickly fading from memory.
The story itself is rather bizarre, even for an animated movie starring talking animals. As the film begins, Chicken Little (Zach Braff) is the Fowl Who Cried Wolf of Oakey Oaks, a peaceful farmyard where animals live an idyllic life. A year ago, he caused an uproar by pulling the alarm after he mistook a earthbound acorn for the sky falling. Poor Chicken Little has since worked tirelessly to help restore his reputation, to little avail. Then, the inconceivable happens -- a real piece of sky lands on his head, as an alien invasion is apparently afoot. But who will believe him? Certainly not his disapproving father Buck (Garry Marshall). So, calling upon his three most loyal friends, Abby Mallard (Joan Cusack), Runt of the Litter (Steve Zahn) and Fish Out of Water (Dan Molina), Chicken Little attempts to prevent this war of the worlds, and finally make his dad proud.
It took me a while to get into 'Chicken Little.' For much of the film, I just couldn't quite place where the film was going, or what tone it was trying to achieve. Granted, most animated flicks are rather kooky and require some serious suspension of disbelief, but 'Chicken Little' didn't seem to have an identifiable "hook." Was this a tale designed to warn young kids against the dangers of telling big fibs? Some coded, conservative ode to xenophobia? Or just an excuse to animate chickens and aliens and make a really cool toy line?
Eventually, multiple themes emerge, and some are very Disney-esque. Chicken Little's dynamic with his father Buck recalls the the touching father-son bonding of 'Bambi,' while his sense of displacement in his own community is more than little reminiscent of the similar 'Lilo & Stitch.' Veering away from Disney, things take an 'E.T.'-like turn when the alien spaceship accidentally leaves its own children behind, who Chicken Little must befriend before their angry parents return for retribution.
But while 'Chicken Little' is a bit of a mish-mash that never fully gels, it does offer a few pleasures thanks to its animation, performances and some other cute little touches. The film has a nice visual look, particularly the retro spaceship designs. The voice cast is also first-rate, even for a major studio effort -- in addition to Braff, Cusack and Zahn, other notable performances include Patrick Stewart, Patrick Warburton, the late Don Knotts and the always-fabulous Catherine O'Hara. And it's hard not to root for poor Chicken Little in his quest to earn the love of his dad. Though I still don't know how anyone sold the powers-that-were at Disney on this odd concept for an animated movie, the journey of its hero is ultimately a universal one.
Alas, the one area where 'Chicken Little' totally failed for me was the music. The score and songs by John Debney are rather forgettable. There is even a theme song, "One Little Step," by the Barenaked Ladies, who, for my money, may be the most cloying pop band currently on the planet. 'Chicken Little' may not one of Disney's animated classics, but he's a likeable enough bird that he deserved better than warmed-over Phil Collins.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Chicken Little' arrives on Blu-ray 3D in a three disc combo pack, containing both 2D and 3D Blu-rays (both BD50 discs, both Region A/B/C) and a DVD disc, packaged under a lenticular slipcover, with a paper slip for DMR points. The 3D disc has one 3D pre-menu trailer.
The 2D disc in this set has been changed to include more recent trailers pre-menu, and a slightly changed disc art layout. Other than that, menu navigation and technical specs are the same.
"Do me one favor...just try not to get your hopes too high..."
I love what Disney has been doing with their Blu-ray 3D releases in 2011, particularly in this final quarter, with their onslaught of titles, mostly catalog conversions. I've been championing the company's 3D efforts for a while now, particularly due to the way that they seem to be single handedly holding the sub-format together these days, almost releasing more content in 2011 than every other studio combined. They have hit home run after home run, making for some of the best Blu-ray 3D releases on the market...but 'Chicken Little' isn't one of them.
I know, I know, in the High-Def Digest forums, we've had this argument a few times, concerning ghosting on Blu-ray 3D titles, how it should or should not affect the score of a disc, how it varies from set to set, television type and brand, with added in variance for 3D glasses battery charge...However, with a set of glasses I had charging for a day in advance to prepare for a 3D marathon (this being the first film in said viewing spree), on a television set that I've used for every other Disney 3D Blu-ray, including some that exhibited nary a single ghost...this one is a bloody mess.
You want a run down of scenes that just don't work and have that awkward crosstalk? Aside from being smarmy and listing the film's entire runtime, let's get specific. The Disney title cards, an ominous start. The opening shot of the bell tower, which may be some of the worst ghosting in the entire film, particularly in the top part of the spire. Random characters, particularly Runt of the Litter. Stars that go double wide. The Buck "Ace" Cluck trophy cabinet in the school, next to the window of the principal's office (which is a lighter ghost than the horrific cabinet's entire contents). White picket fences that look like someone tried to add a depth layer to them, as each peg has a ghost to the right just slightly. The interrogation scene in the end, with father and son, against a pure black background, ghosting prominently due to the way the background makes your eyes focus on them.
Those are just some examples. This disc is full of them, and this review cannot go long enough to detail each and every failed moment. So, moving on, this disc has some other issues, as well. First, this is the first Disney release in some time that has any significant information or detail lost due to darkness, as the shutter glasses effectively dampen and eliminate more than a few scene's worth of little intricacies. Since the film has a number of dark or "low lit" sequences, this is slightly annoying. Some shots of the porcupine character have his quills going absolutely berserk with aliasing, as well. Lastly, depth is very limited, with very few limitless, infinitely deep moments to be found.
Now, after all the griping, the whining and complaining, this disc does have some strengths, as well. The 3D effect isn't a standout in all scenes, and often times it can be pretty mundane, but when the film wants to, it can have a whole lot of 3D pop. In day shots, colors are very bold and natural, textures phenomenal and beautiful, while stray hairs, feathers, or other animal appendages really pop and leap right out from the characters. The added depth in some scenes is nice and convincing, like the car rides with Chicken Little and his dad, while the climax of the film, with the aliens first appearing en masse to invade, their crafts swooping through the room, it's really beyond impressive. This film also has a good amount of pop out effects, with a dodgeball or two coming at the screen, as well as some of the alien blades that pierce the front layer and come at you (though this effect doesn't work as well).
'Chicken Little' in 3D isn't a complete loss, but it is only on par with the earlier discs in the format, the Sony titles that were about as impressive as a twenty year old who can tie his own shoes. There's plenty of 3D to behold, but plenty of issues and 3D misfires to witness, as well.
So...since Disney no longer uses Linear PCM for their audio, it's not all that shocking that 'Chicken Little' is now presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Now, yes, there's change in the audio, yes, I sat down and graded it, and no...I don't see any need to change the score. In fact, all of Peter's praises and complaints ring as true on this new track as they did in 2007. So, why try to rephrase what is already accurate?
The film's sound design is very lively and engaging, and it never fails to utilize all five speakers to strong effect. Surrounds are rarely quiet. From the early farmyard scenes to the later alien encounters, discrete effects are pronounced, with excellent imaging and great clarity, even to minor ambiance. Dialogue is very well pronounced. Only John Debney's score sometimes blares too loudly in the mix, which only ups the annoyance factor on songs that I disliked in the first place. Dynamic range is terrific though, with the completely studio-constructed audio sounding totally natural and realistic. If it wasn't for the too-loud score, this would be a five-star home run.
The only thing I'd add to what was said in the 2D review is that bass levels can be strong, and sometimes a bit powerful, but they never go off the deep end like you'd hope or expect, considering the opening setpiece and the final act of the film. This track is still a winner, with tons of activity, great sound design, and clear dialogue, but it's no joke: the music is way too loud, compared to all other elements. It's really distracting.
There are no extras on the 3D disc, and all extras below are from the 2D version. This set includes a DVD that was not found in original pressings of the film, and was later a double dip to make a combo pack.
The supplement package review below is a repurposing from the original review, to fit our newer format.
'Chicken Little' is a fun film, sometimes very smart, sometimes the polar opposite, with a cute cast of characters and a peculiar, though unique, premise and twist on the story. It's not one of Disney's best computer animated titles, but it has heart and a message, and has some humor that lasts and lasts through repeat viewings. Disney has been on a tear with 3D content this year, and has delivered some knockout gems, but this isn't one of them. This is actually one of their lesser efforts. The audio is changed over, which will please some, but what matters most is the disc anyone is paying to view when buying this combo pack. If this release were cheaper, it would earn a nicer recommendation, but at the going rate as of release date, if you can find a company that rents 3D content, rent it. If you have a friend who bought it, borrow it.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.