Well this is one of those rare instances where the plethora of mediocre reviews littering the internet were invaluable at lowering my expectations going in. To be honest, I liked this one far, far more than I expected to based on popular consensus alone. I think the reason for this is due in part to the simple fact that I've done the old fable turned modern CG film many, many times in the past and can attest to how horribly wrong it can all go (try any of the Unstable Fables, Happily N'ever Afters and so on).
What we have here is a cutesy CG piece that by no means pushes the animation envelope (even for 2005 standards) that works off the tried and true formula of decent narrative rather than retina-popping visual appeal.
Zach Braff voices the title character; the resourceful little chicken of popular myth who sends the town into a panic when he rings the bell in the school tower while announcing that the sky is falling. Unable to find the piece of the sky that he saw fall, his father Buck Cluck (Garry Marshall) is naturally humiliated and tells his son to lay low for a while. Chicken Little abides by his father's wishes, and, in effort to follow in his father's footsteps, even joins the baseball team at school. Unfortunately just as it seems that things are okay between the father and son's strained relationship, another piece of the sky happens to fall (directly onto Chicken's head no less). The poor diminutive fowl is reluctant to even attempt to explain it a second time considering he hadn't even lived down his first lapse in judgment.
Chicken Little in the company of his best friends Abby Mallard (Ugly Duckling (Joan Cusack))) and Runt of the Litter (Steve Zahn), discover that sections of falling sky are in fact panels from a UFO being piloted by alien beings with a plan of total global domination.
Naturally he is unable to get anyone to believe him after his earlier humiliation but impending invasion waits not for the reconciliation of the boy who cried wolf, oh wait wrong fairy tale!
Like The Wild, Valiant, and Bolt, Chicken Little represents that period where Disney and Pixar's relationship was quite strained and "the Diz" was doing all they could to prove to the public (and to themselves) that they could pull off a computer-generated masterpiece without the help of Pixar.
Did they succeed with Chicken Little? Actually the answer to that one is a surprising yes. Not that this one raises the bar by any means; it can just as easily be viewed as committing no major gaffes either. What's here is a charming little piece that actually (and rarely) takes a fairy tale base and turns it into a modern-day adventure with a fitting homage to films like War of the Worlds.
Additionally impressive here is the humor, which actually relies upon well developed characters and solid scripting over visual gags or (ahem DreamWorks) sexual innuendos. In fact the film, like most Disney animated pieces, earns the G-rating and manages to pack some pretty intense sequences into the generally restrictive criteria. The world consists entirely of personified animals and casting Don Knotts as the jittery turkey mayor, Wallace Shawn as the canine school principle and the duo of Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara as the alien couple proves that Disney's knack for selecting appropriate vocal talent was never in jeopardy.
Rather than take itself too seriously, Chicken Little keeps things light by integrating an incredibly rich in-film soundtrack that bounces all over the spectrum: everything from a catchy ditty written specifically for the film by the Bare Naked Ladies to the requisite It's the End of the World as We Know It (REM) during the alien invasion sequence. Other gems include an impromptu karaoke session to the Spice Girls' If you Wanna Be My Lover and the Bee Gees Stayin' Alive as character motivation (heck even the credit roll begins with a pretty funny rendition of Elton John's Don't go Breaking My Heart).
Living legend Hans Zimmer is responsible for the film's scoring so soaring highs, creepy lows and perfectly appropriate mood settings are a given.
In all the gags work with varying degrees of success: Runt of the Litter being a big Barbra Streisand fan will likely be lost on the vast majority of the intended audience but the Indiana Jones segment, for example, is fantastic stuff.
While the general opinion seems to label Chicken Little as a failure (or at the very least a failure in living up to its expectations), I tend to consider this, the first fully computer generated feature film produced in-house by Disney, a thoroughly enjoyable experience from beginning to end with just enough charm to appeal to viewers of all ages.