Chicken Little (U)

ANDREW CLARKE This is Disney's first homegrown venture into the world of digital animation. But, sadly, it doesn't hold a candle to any of the Pixar or Blue Sky animated features.

ANDREW CLARKE

This is Disney's first homegrown venture into the world of digital animation. But, sadly, it doesn't hold a candle to any of the Pixar or Blue Sky animated features.

Chicken Little is very much a children's film rather than a family film - which, by its very nature, offers viewers of different ages a different experience and different jokes.

This movie, based on the famous pre-school children's story, is really only designed to appeal to youngsters between the ages of four and 12.

To be fair, there are quite a few one-liners which should raise a smile from accompanying adults, but the script doesn't have the level of sophistication to keep an older audience entertained for long.

The animation also is squarely aimed at a pre-teen audience. One of the great strides forward in the world of animation in recent years, along with the growth of digital animation, has been the evolution of the animated movie from a kids' matinee to a sophisticated comedy that can be shown all day and work on different levels to different audiences - this is the true meaning of a family film.

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Movies such as Antz, The Incredibles, Monsters Inc, Ice Age, Finding Nemo and certainly the two Toy Story films and the two Shreks have all succeeded because of the sophisticated imagination and the level of invention that have been poured into the scripting process.

Chicken Little is a much more basic film and is a clear by-product of Disney's recent policy of making films that only appeal to a pre-teen audience. This has led to a recent spate of flops including Jungle Book 2, Peter Pan 2, Home on the Range and Brother Bear.

While Chicken Little is certainly a cut above any of those recent traditionally-animated films, it's not going to worry the animation teams at Pixar, Dreamworks or Blue Sky too much.

It is probably quite significant that Chicken Little didn't have the legs for a long run when it opened in the States. It opened to fantastic business and then audiences dropped off quite quickly. It's likely that the same thing will happen here.

The film is a fairly straightforward updating of what we know as the Chicken Lickin story - the young chick who believes that the sky is falling on its head. Whereas it was an acorn in the original story, today it is a panel from an alien spaceship which gives the animators an excuse to bring in references to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, ET and Spielberg's most recent hit adaptation The War of the Worlds.

Of course, no one believes Chicken Little because the panel from the alien spaceship is supplied with a cloaking device which allows it to blend in with its surroundings. Once again, Chicken Little becomes the joke of Oakley Oaks - the New Jersey-like suburb where the action takes place.

The animation has been created to resemble a children's large-format picture book with its simplistic designs, DayGlo colourful and anthropomorphic animal characters. Chicken Little, voiced by Scrubs star Zach Braff and his friends Mallard (Joan Cusack), a camp, over-large pig called Runt (Steve Zahn) and Fish Out of Water (Dan Molina) are the unpopular kids in class - they are the socially awkward misfits.

This is a grave disappointment to Little's dad a strutting rooster called Buck Cluck (Garry Marshall) who was the school's champion baseball player in his youth and is still a revered hero.

Although he tries to be a good dad to his young offspring he freely admits he is embarrassed by his son's increasingly eccentric behaviour and strange tales of the sky falling. So when Chicken Little and his chums spot a spaceship landing in the local baseball stadium, no one believes him until its too late. The gurgling Fish Out of Water is kidnapped by the many-tentacled alien war machines and is dropped on board the spaceship and Chicken Little and his mates set out to rescue the hapless fish with the water-filled diving helmet.

In many ways Chicken Little replays the second half of Spielberg's War of the Worlds for an audience that was too young to see the grown-up version. The animation is functional but without the flair or visual imagination demonstrated by new computer animations giants Pixar and Dreamworks.

The characters are well voiced, but the characterisation, like the jokes is too one-dimensional to sustain our interest over the course of a feature film.

Chicken Little will be great for the little ones but won't hold much allure for teenagers or adults.

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