A better name for Chicken Little might have been My First Spielberg Movie given how this mostly innocuous computer-animated contraption takes the childlike but mature feelings of E.T. and War of the Worlds and repackages them as childish sitcom tosh. The story’s best gag even references Raiders of the Lost Ark: Chicken Little (Zach Braff) cries wolf about the sky falling and the ensuing chaos features a massive ball-shaped object pummeling though a movie theater at precisely the moment Harrison Ford’s Indy is trying to dodge the Spielberg film’s iconic giant boulder. Indeed, there’s a stifling sense of movieness to Chicken Little, from the pop-cultural references to its closing satirical jab at films-by-committee, which completely misses given that the Hollywood fiction made out of its eponymous character’s experience is really no more bloated than the real deal.
Truly there’s no sense of calm to the film, which feels as if it’s been assembled with the manic energy of a preschooler trying to fit square-shaped plastic toys into circle-shaped holes. The songs—both new (the awful “One Little Slip” by the Barenaked Ladies) and old (“It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” by R.E.M.)—exist only to irritatingly underline the action that transpires on screen, and their presence is incessant. I don’t know what’s more incredible here: that the filmmakers actually resisted the temptation of using Aerosmith’s “Livin’ On The Edge” or the whopping royalty check Columbia Records will receive for allowing C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” to appear in two major releases in the same week (see—or, rather, don’t see—Jarhead).
To be fair, the film is more insipid than bad—it’s busy, busy, busy, but Robin Williams does not lend his voice to the project, the puns are limited mostly to character names and isolated to the first half of the picture, and many of the gags are charming, namely a lemmings bit and the story’s explanation of the origin of crop circles. Of course, given how much the story throws at its audience, it’s only natural that something was bound to stick. Something that definitely doesn’t stick is gender identity. Chicken Little’s nemesis, Foxy Loxy (Amy Sedaris), begins as a dyked-up bully but ends as a Little Bo Peeped tart thanks to a little ray of alien recombination. If this wasn’t sketchy enough, she hooks up with Little’s best bud Runt of the Litter (Steve Zahn), a porker with a disco fetish and an ostensibly large Barbra Streisand collection. I don’t know what the message is here but I do know that it’s all wrong.