'Chicken Little' for birds.

I tried. I mean I really tried to like Disney's newest animated venture, "Chicken Little," directed by Mark Dindal ("The Little Mermaid," "Oliver & Company"), but the humor was so forced (and lacking) that the whole enterprise smacked of pure desperation.

As if they were trying just a bit too hard.

And while the computer animation is really well done, the recent releases of "The Corpse Bride" and "Wallace & Grommit" remind one just how artistic and craft-worthy the old ways of stop-action and claymation really are.

Everyone knows the nursery rhyme of "Chicken Little," the paranoid clucker who is hit by an acorn and then tries to convince his friends (Cocky Locky, Foxy Loxy, Goosey Lucy, Turkey Lurky, the Ugly Duckling, et al) that the sky is falling and that everyone should run for their lives.

In this film, the title character (voiced by Zach Braff - I think Woody Allen would have been a much, much better choice), a resident of Oakey Oaks, is hit by an octagon-shaped thing with clouds on it that he believes is a piece of the sky. Ringing the school's alarm bell, he causes everyone to go nuts. There are some nice funny scenes in this sequence, with automobiles crashing, animals running in all directions and a huge water tower rolling about like the huge boulder in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Surrounded by his father (who is raising the little goofball by himself), the frightened townspeople and members of the news media, Chicken Little is unable to prove his assertion, so he becomes the town crackpot, even worse, a big disappointment to his jock father. A year later, Little is still treated like a total loser, but he is inventive and resourceful, so he is not completely overwhelmed, even though his best friends are pretty much worthless (except for Ugly Duckling - Joan Cusack).

The other two, a huge pig, Runt of the Litter (Steve Zahn) and Fish Out Of Water (Dan Molina)are pointless and lame - the former breaks into several popular songs ("Staying Alive," "Wannabe," "I Will Survive") and eats a lot (yeah, he's a pig, get it?), and the latter, wears a diving helmet filled with water. Naturally, this group is picked on by the popular kids (led by Foxy - Amy Sedaris) and, when they learn that the earth is being invaded by aliens (Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara, among others), no one still believes the little chick and his loser friends.

Like I previously mentioned, I liked the very beginning, and I thought the last 10 minutes was pretty good, as well, the problem was the middle. I suppose the messages of Chicken and his father bonding (the younger viewers probably are not going to get this, though), childhood isolation and the in crowd versus those on the outside are important, but to me it was all lost in the boredom of the middle sequences. I didn't react, I didn't think and most important, I didn't laugh.

Unlike past Disney efforts such as "Toy Story," "Monster's Inc." and "Finding Nemo," the writing was as much for the adults as it was for children. In "Chicken Little," however, the jokes are painfully flat and I found myself just chuckling a few times, if that many. And while kids will probably dig the animation, many will probably be as befuddled with some of the pop cultural references, All in all, if your a HUGE fan of the genre, or a six-year-old child, you will probably enjoy this picture, but it is a big step down and a disappointment for those who expect the same movie as some of the studio's more successful computer-animated pictures.


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