Chicken Little

If "Chicken Little" was Walt Disney Pictures' attempt to muscle in on Pixar's turf, well ... let's just say Disney had better do everything in its power to keep the makers of "Toy Story" very, very happy.

A half-baked combination of "Shrek" and "The War of the Worlds," "Chicken Little" is packed with talented voice actors -- "Scrubs'" Zach Braff in the title role of the panicky little fowl, Joan Cusack and Steve Zahn as his buddies, Garry Marshall, Patrick Stewart and Don Knotts as various grown-ups -- and jammed full of expensive digital artistry, and it doesn't work for a second.

It opens in full panic, with our pint-sized hero alerting the storybook town of Oakey Oaks to the threat of that famous falling sky ... which turns out to be a false alarm, making poor Chicken a figure of ridicule. A year later, it starts all over again - and that falling piece of sky turns out to be the front edge of an extraterrestrial landing.

There are the barest shreds of character detail - turns out Chicken has dad issues, and there's something about a rivalry with the obnoxious Foxy Loxy, but that's all pushed quickly aside so the characters can run around screeching at each other that the sky is falling, or the aliens are landing, or the aliens are falling from the sky, or whatever.

This movie has just one gear (fourth) and one volume setting (ear-splitting), and it's so frantically busy that it's impossible to appreciate the splendid production design and the goofy little character work being done by the mute sidekick Fish Out of Water in the sides of the frame.

What's truly shocking is that director Mark Dindal has so completely lost the deft touch he brought to "The Emperor's New Groove" six years ago -- sure, it was one of those dusty old classical hand-drawn dealies the Disney suits are so quick to put behind them, but it had a sureness of tone and a lightness of foot that "Chicken Little" absolutely lacks. The new one's really more of a turkey.

Disney's enhanced-widescreen DVD is a minimalist package, considering how expansive even the studio's basic releases usually are -- there's no audio commentary, for instance, and the behind-the-scenes material is very thin, just a handful of featurettes (amounting to 18 minutes of material) and a hodgepodge of alternate openings, including an early version that cast the hero as a girl -- leading Disney head Michael Eisner to argue that going male would make for a much more vulnerable hero. It's a pretty good idea, but one of only a handful that made it into the finished film.

Also included are a couple of music videos (for the Cheetah Girls' "Shake A Tail Feather" and Barenaked Ladies' "One Little Slip") and a pretty pointless set-top trivia game.

STUDIO: Walt Disney Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: March 21, 2006
PRICE: $29.95
TIME: 81 minutes
DVD EXTRAS: French and Spanish audio dubs; English captions; deleted scenes; production featurettes; music videos.

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