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Friday, November 11, 2005

Chicken Little

Okay, so Chicken Little opened last week. I was looking forward to seeing it, but I was afraid to go because I figured the Essex Outlet Cinemas would be mobbed with hundreds of small children and their parents and I wouldn't be able to hear anything as they did what young kids do ~ talk, shout, giggle, run around and generally distract me. I admit it, I'm sorry, but I'm just not a fan of the young ones at my movies. Still, I love Disney and know the target audience, so I decided to wait a week. Apparently I was right to do so as Chicken Little opened anything but little. It grossed more than $40 million in its' first weekend nationwide.

So a week later I felt a bit more confident that I could finally see and hear the little Mr. Little and ventured off to the Essex Outlet Cinemas on a late Friday afternoon. I had been to Disneyworld in January and even back then Chicken Little was conspicuously present on-site in the form of posters and figurines. I thought he looked cute, but not overwhelmingly so. Now I wish I'd bought a suitcase full of memorabilia.

Omletting you in on a Little secret: Chicken Little is one good egg. Voiced by Zack Braff of "Scrubs" fame, he sounds and acts a bit like his mannerisms were poached from Michael J. Fox's 'Marty McFly' character of the Back to the Future movies. He is a pipsqueak, a bit of a loser, the kid who inevitably gets picked last in a dodgeball game and who trips over his own feet, but he is the sweetest, purest soul you could hope to meet. Any adult who ever remembers as much as a single day when they did something embarrassing in school as a kid is going to empathize with our little Chicken. He tries so hard to be the best that he can be, but life just seems to conspire to interfere with this plan.

That whole "The sky is falling. The sky is falling" episode opens this tale and sets the stage for what is to come. Once Chicken Little has roused the town of Oakley Oaks with his claims of seeing a piece of the sky fall they dismiss him as (dare I say it...) being crazy as a loon. His father, Buck Cluck (voiced by Garry Marshall), loves the Little guy but is also a bit ashamed that Chicken Little is not the achiever he was in high school. Buck is a bit too hard-boiled to be a single parent, but he does try. Whatever became of Mrs Cluck is never explained, but one of the many scrambled plots in the movie involves Buck's difficulty in raising his son alone. Personally, I sensed that the unspoken fate of Chicken Little's mother might well have involved a certain Colonel Sanders, but it is just a hunch on my part.

Anyway, Buck was a local sports hero, and even 15 years later he is remembered as the only baseball player to ever win the season pennant against the next town over. Chicken's desire to make his Dad proud by trying out for the baseball team this year is met with great skepticism by Buck, who encourages his son to try out for the Chess Club instead. Eventually Chicken Little does get his chance on the team and let's just say, at least for the moment, the batting bird redeems himself far beyond the expectations of his father or the entire town. This is one time where there may be strikes and balls at home plate but the only fowl in the game is definitely not in the stands or behind the batting cage but is running the bases like a champ.

It appears he may have finally put his reputation as being a little soft-boiled in the cranial area behind him when the unthinkable happens. Another piece of the sky falls on him. This time, though, he comes to realize that this "sky" is actually a technologically advanced piece of a cloaking device that has dropped off the outer shield of an intergalactic spaceship hovering above Oakley Oaks.

Yes, the story of Chicken Little has gone sci-fi.

With his best friends Runt of the Litter (a pig played hilariously by Steve Zahn) and Abby Mallard (a duck voiced to perfection by Joan Cusack) the trio set out to save their friend Fish (you can guess his species) who has been accidently taken aboard the spacecraft and in the rescue process prove to the town that the sky really was falling and that something sinister is afoot. They just have to avoid getting fried while doing all of this.

Of course it never occurs to any of our gregarious gang that the aliens may be a bit more beneign than anyone thinks. They just assume an armada of spaceships circling the town must be there to either enslave them or steal their riches to feather their own nests. This presumption leads to a series of chases and sight gags as one enormous pig, one ugly duckling, and a wee chicken fight aliens, protect an furry-faced baby named Kirby and in the end prove Chicken Little's original story that the sky did, indeed, fall on him. They risk a lot for their fishy friend. Runt knows he could end up looking like a real weenie if they fail. Abby's goose could be cooked, and Chicken Little could find his reputation permanently frickaseed, but they (naturally) prevail, this being a Disney movie after all.

More important than the rescue mission, however, is the message that is for the parents (and especially fathers) who are watching this movie with their children. Through all the fun and laughs, and there are many, the underlying themes are about loyalty and trust. Sometimes parents need to bite the bullet and let their kids try to do things even when they, the parents, are afraid the kids will fail. It is about supporting them and nurturing them, and most of all believing in them. All Chicken Little ever wanted was for his father to believe in him. It just might have been easier if he hadn't had to save the planet to get his father to finally get that his son was a whole lot more than a sports hero.

The movie is a visual treat as only Disney offers. For the kids, the town of Oakley Oaks looks like a ride through Roger Rabbit's Toontown. For the adults, there are subtle background gags the kids won't notice (like a bull managing the local China Shop) and the parents can spend time trying to place the voices with the characters. Besides Braff, Zahn, and Cusack, several well-known actors lend their voices to the production. Look for, or rather, listen for Adam West, Don Knotts, Amy Sedaris, Patrick Stewart, Wallace Shawn, Harry Shearer, and a host of others.

Chicken Little has made an impressive debut. I hope we see more of the Little guy in the years to come. For you, Dear Reader, it is never to soon to fly on down to the Essex Outlet Center for a lot of good yolks, er, I mean jokes and egg the Little guy on. Chicken Little is like a walk on the sunny-side of the street.

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