Reel Opinions


Monday, November 21, 2005

Derailed

Derailed, the new thriller from Swedish filmmaker, Mikael Hafstrom, will not win any awards come next Oscar season. That is, unless of course they decide to create an award for "Most Self-Describing Title". Yes, much like a train flying completely off its track, Derailed loses sight of its initial purpose. What begins as an intelligent and intriguing little morality tale degenerates into an increasingly ludicrous revenge fantasy. One where the double crosses can be seen from miles away. Though never boring, Derailed never lives up to its initial promise, and that's a shame. There are some good performances on display and obvious care went into making it.

Things start out strong enough as we are introduced to our main character, Charles Schine (Clive Owen from Closer). Charles has a good job at an ad company, a loyal wife (Melissa George), and a cute young daughter (Addison Timlin) who has been suffering from severe Level 1 Diabetes for years. The pressures of his job and his home life of keeping his daughter alive are slowly beginning to take their toll on him as the film opens. Perhaps that's why he's so intrigued by the beautiful woman he meets on the morning commute train to work one day. She is Lucinda (Jennifer Aniston), and there is an obvious connection between the two when they meet. Like Charles, Lucinda has a family. Although they know it is wrong, they can't help but be drawn together. Their meetings on the train lead to more intimate meetings in restaurants and bars. Before long, they are searching the streets of Chicago together in a taxi for a hotel, each one telling their spouses that they are working late that night.

The two check into a room at a shady building, and in a heat of passion, they begin to make love. Because of this they do not notice the mysterious man (Vincent Cassel) sneaking into the room, who promptly holds them at gunpoint, demanding their wallets. The two comply with his demands, but the man proceeds to beat Charles unconscious then rape Lucinda. After coming to, Charles wants to go to the police, but Lucinda refuses, since if the truth of what they were doing at the hotel was revealed, it would destroy her family, and she would lose the right to see her own daughter. The two try to go on with their own lives as if nothing happened (Charles tells his wife he got mugged after working late that night.), but shortly afterward, Charles begins to get threatening phone calls on his cell phone from the same man who threatened him just days ago. It seems the man wants money, and is not afraid to resort to blackmail to get it, since he knows the truth of what he was doing that night. The thug even begins to invade Charles' personal life, constantly taunting and harassing him into cooperating. With the money he's saved for years to support his daughter's medical needs slipping away due to this mysterious madman, Charles becomes desperate to find a way out and get his life back together.

That's all I will reveal of Derailed's plot for the sake of not spoiling the film's twists, but quite honestly, anyone half-awake in the audience should be able to see where the story is going long before the characters do. The film wants to be a Hitchcock-style romantic thriller, but it's just too simplistic, and the puzzle pieces fall into place too easily, no matter how the film toys with us. The film is supposed to be about a man's desperate attempt to correct a mistake he made without letting his family know. He does this a variety of ways - Everything from complying with the villain's demands, hoping he'll leave him alone, to hiring a friend from the mail room at the place he works who has a past criminal record, hoping he can threaten and scare the thug into leaving him alone. All well and good, but in order for a story like this to work, it needs honesty and emotion. We need to want to see the character, despite his faults, get his life back together. We do not get this feeling for Charles because he is never properly punished for his actions the way he should be. Not only does he get away almost completely scot free from cheating on his wife, but he also gets to pull off multiple murders with no consequences whatsoever.

Charles is continuously pulled into a world of deceit and lies as he attempts to keep his actions secret from his family, fear that it would destroy him and everything he's worked for. Yet, when it finally comes time for him to face up to the truth and tell his wife what happened that night, the film does not let us see it. He tells his wife "I will tell you everything...", then it immediately cuts to the next scene. We never learn his wife's reaction. It's obvious she forgives him, since they're still together at the end of the film and hugging each other, but since the film denies us the scene that the entire first half of the film has been building up to, it all seems emotionally hollow, especially since Charles' family plays such a minor role in the story they are curiously non-existent for most of the running time. This leads us to feeling indifferent to Charles' plight. That, however, does not compare to the path the film takes after this moment, where Charles suddenly becomes a revenge-driven, gun-toting vigilante hellbent on punishing the people who have been blackmailing him. The film switches gears from a potentially heart-felt thriller of a man dealing with his own mistakes to a blood-soaked action film, complete with a horror movie-style ending where we learn the villain is not as dead as we think we his. Numerous people are gunned down, even one innocent man who got wrapped up in Charles' fight, and once again, no consequences are dealt. There's no tension during these moments, because the movie almost seems to be constantly assuring us that Charles is going to walk away with no problems. This is where Derailed itself does indeed derail. Characters we once came close to caring about suddenly turn into cartoon mockeries of their former selves.

Before the film does veer off into revenge territory, the film does hint at being a passable little thriller. Although melodramatic at times, the plot works and is effective. It is during these moments that the character of Charles is hinted at being a much more interesting and likable character than he winds up being during the later half of the film. This is mostly because of the performance by Clive Owen. He seems to have the weight of the world on his shoulders during much of his performance, and is very good at expressing his desperation and confusion in this bizarre and dangerous situation he has found himself in. He is able to make his character relatable for most of the film. Even when the screenplay is at its worst and is using Charles as a tool for a blood-soaked revenge fantasy, Owen is still able to find the little bit of humanity left in the character. As for the rest of the cast, Jennifer Aniston does her best that she can in the role, but ultimately seems wrong, especially when we discover the role she plays in the story. She still seems to be giving the same type of performance she's played in numerous light-hearted comedies for a part of the film, and that is a grave miscalculation when the later half of the film rolls around. Vincent Cassel does indeed seem to be reveling in his cartoonishly evil role as the thug that tries to destroy Charles' life, but he's never quite able to give the character any real emotions. He's simply evil for the sake of being evil, and is not far removed from the mustache-twirling villains of melodramas long ago.

Despite a good lead performance, Derailed just cannot hold up as a thriller, because we do not believe the later half for a second, and the lead character does not receive any form of punishment for his later actions. It certainly doesn't help that this story has been done better many times before in films such as Unfaithful with Richard Gere. Despite all its faults, the movie does at least hold our interest and is entertaining for most of its running time. I just wanted more, and the film's ludicrous plot twist that you can see coming from a mile away was not satisfying enough. The film's advertising poster states "They never saw it coming". You will have no such problem with this film's twist if you should happen to find yourself watching this film.

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Monday, November 07, 2005

Jarhead

You can train a soldier to fight a war, but what does a soldier do when there is no war to fight? That is the question asked by Jarhead, and it is indeed a very interesting one. It is a movie about a war, but no actual fighting is ever depicted. Based on the 2003 memoir by former Marine, Anthony Swofford, director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) has crafted a very human and real story about a soldier's rising frustrations while he is stuck in the original Gulf War. He is a man who has been trained to kill, and is sent to the desert to fight. He is a ground sniper with all the abilities required, but although the "Mother of all wars" has been promised to him, he finds his squad simply making their way across the desert, waiting for something to happen, while other units see action. The ground units have been replaced by airplanes and other more high tech means of warfare. So, what is he to do but question his own reasons for being here, and watch the world around him pass him by?

When we first meet Anthony (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), he is already regretting his decision of joining the Marines. After all, he has a beautiful girlfriend back home, and now here he is being screamed at by drill sergeants, and being abused by his fellow soldiers because he's the "fresh meat" of the group. He is soon set off to Boot Camp to be trained as a sniper by the no-nonsense Staff Sergeant Sykes (Jamie Foxx), who loves his job in the military, and makes this fact clear numerous times. Anthony does not exactly share Sykes' enthusiasm, but he quickly makes his way through training, and earns his place among his fellow men including his mentor Troy (Peter Sarsgaard from Flightplan) and the rowdy Kruger (Lucas Black from Friday Night Lights). With the impending Gulf War on the horizon, Anthony and his fellow squad members find themselves shipped out to the desert to fight their great war.

They arrive to a rousing speech set by Lt. Col. Kazinski (Chris Cooper) that immediately puts the men into fighting spirit. They are trained, they are pumped, and they are ready. However, as the days slowly tick by with no action, the soldiers quickly find morale dropping. They can see glimpses of a war being fought off in the distance, but they are stuck making their way across the desert on foot. All they have to do to pass the time is drinking, arguing amongst each other, and writing letters to home, wondering if the women they left behind are still faithful. The movie slowly ticks off the days that pass by, and we see the mounting frustration and anguish in the eyes of Anthony and his fellow men. These soldiers have been trained and pumped for action, and yet, the world is passing them by. Instead of the heat of battle, they must endure only the heat of the desert sun. They must force smiles for cameras and news crews, and tell them it's an honor to be serving their country, although in reality, they would rather be anywhere but where they are. They have been promised glory, and all they find is a strange land they do not understand, and a war that they don't even get to participate in. What is Anthony to do when he returns to civilian society? Here he is with all this knowledge but nothing to do with it. After all, as he states, whether he holds it or not, his rifle will always be a part of his body for the rest of his life.


Jarhead is a leisurely-paced, yet fascinating character study that shows what happens when someone buys into patriotism and morale, and finds that the reality is something a lot more different and mundane than what he has been promised. Anthony has heard war stories from his dad and his uncle. As a matter of fact, he was even born from a war, as his parents had sex while his father was on leave from his Vietnam duty. When Anthony's squad starts hearing talk of unrest in Iraq, they become excited. This is finally their time to write their own war stories that they will pass on to others. They arrive to find a very different war from what they've been promised. One where they can only watch the destruction. They make their way through charred areas, and can see fire and smoke off in the distance. That is not their war. They are here to simply protect the oil fields. The war seems to be over almost as soon as it begins. Why are they even here, and what are they to do now?

The frustration these men feel is expressed in different ways, either lashing out at each other, or at themselves. There is a scene late in the film where Anthony is on the verge of finally seeing some action. He has a clear shot at an enemy soldier in a tower. Just as he has been given the orders to fire, however, his chance is taken away from him. His shot may give away an incoming air strike by another division of the military. His one chance to see any sort of action, and it is stolen from him. It is also his only shot, as when he returns to his men, he finds them celebrating the end of the war, and that they are going home. He has been denied everything he was trained to do, and now he must return to civilian life, and be forced to suppress and forget everything he has devoted the past few years of his life to. America welcomes him home a hero, but it is a hollow victory, because to Anthony and his squad, there never was a victory or even a defeat.

The soldiers in Jarhead are not the glorified boys of World War II, or the tormented souls of Vietnam. They are confused, angry, and anxious to put their skills to use. Jake Gyllenhaal provides a certain vulnerability and confusion that the lead role requires. While he idly wastes his days away in 100+ degree heat, waiting for something to happen, he worries that the life he left behind won't be there when he gets back. He receives troubling letters from his girlfriend back at home that she may have moved on. As he makes his way through the desert, he can only torture himself with thoughts of what she may be doing and who she may be doing it with. His fellow soldiers are all in similar situations. At their base camp, they have a "Wall of Shame" where they hang up photos of girlfriends who have been unfaithful to them since leaving for war, and openly ridicule them. There are some moments of joy (one of the soldiers learns he has become a father), but even these fleeting instances seem small when you are stuck in a place you don't understand. All of the actors do an excellent job with their respective roles, and their growing anger. Peter Sarsgaard, in particular, has an emotional scene near the end when he finally breaks down after he's been refused the chance to actually do what he's been trained to do. Many of the men have similar moments when they just cannot handle the monotony of the desert anymore, and each sequence is heartbreaking and real.


Director Sam Mendes uses his environment well, creating some unforgettable images. A scene where the soldiers come across a series of charred cars, each containing charred bodies, is appropriately chilling. They get a first-hand look at the cruelty that they are supposed to be fighting against, but they feel they can do nothing about it, even though they are supposed to be able to. His directing style in Jarhead is intentionally leisurely, fitting the mood and atmosphere. The film has an appropriately sun-baked look to it, almost as if the film has been exposed to the sun too long in certain scenes. Using primarily yellows, oranges, and blacks to paint his grim picture, Mendes allows us to share the same feelings of isolation and loneliness that his characters feel.

The idea of a war film that does not feature soldiers fighting may indeed sound anticlimactic, but Jarhead works because it is a realistic portrayal of a soldier discovering that his skills really have no use in the war that he is participating in. He has no place, and he knows it. The entire cast create characters that may not always be sympathetic (many of the men are young, rowdy, and out of control), but are always real. I commend director Sam Mendes and screenwriter William Broyles, Jr (The Polar Express) for taking a difficult concept, and making it into one of the more highly entertaining dramas I've seen so far this year.

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Zathura

How can a movie get it so right, and at the same time, get it so wrong? This is the question I kept on asking myself while watching Zathura, the new family sci-fi adventure film from director Jon Favreau (Elf). Here is a movie that starts out wonderful, honest, exciting, and wondrous. But then, and you can almost pinpoint the exact moment, the script goes on autopilot and turns into an overly loud mindless video game of a movie. I don't know if it was studio influence or the fault of screenwriters David Koepp and John Kamps, but as the movie increased its volume (people screaming every single line, explosions firing off every two seconds), I quickly became discouraged. When the movie throws a last minute plot twist that makes no sense whatsoever, not to mention the fact that the script makes no effort at all to even explain it, I threw my hands up in defeat. Zathura never quite becomes a chore to sit through, and is light years better than the uninspired Chicken Little when it comes to family entertainment. But still, I couldn't shake the feeling that they were on to something really good, and went in the totally wrong direction come the half-way point.

6-year old Danny (Jonah Bobo) and 10-year old Walter (Josh Hutcherson) are a pair of feuding brothers who are spending some time at their dad's (Tim Robbins) as the film opens. The main source of sibling rivalry between the two is that older brother Walter is highly competitive, good at sports, and generally enjoys shoving his accomplishments in the face of the dejected Danny, who feels like he's no good at anything. Danny feels alone in the world, as not even his older sister, Lisa (Kristen Stewart from Panic Room) even seems to know he's alive. With dad away on business, and their mom still hours away from picking them up, the two brothers quickly begin to quarrel when they're left alone, resulting in Danny being banished to the basement. While exploring his "prison", the child happens across an old 1950s outer space-themed board game called "Zathura". Intrigued by the sci-fi theme, Danny takes the game upstairs and begins to play.

Anyone who saw the 1995 film, Jumanji, pretty much knows what to expect next, as this film is based on a book by the same author, Chris Van Allsburg. The game is a space race as two metallic motorized spaceships automatically move themselves across the game's board when one of the two brothers spins the counter that dictates the number of spaces the player can move. When the model ship lands on a square, a card pops out of a slot, depicting some kind of space-related emergency. Whatever is stated on the card comes true immediately. When one of the boys draws a card that talks of a meteor shower, meteorites come crashing through the living room ceiling, destroying everything in their path. When another draws a card about a defective robot, a giant killer robot (voiced by Frank Oz) starts rampaging through their house, hellbent on wiping the kids out. With their house now seemingly floating through the vast reaches of outer space (strangely enough, they still have gravity, and can even breathe when they step outside of the house) and the situation increasingly worsening with each turn of the spinner, the brothers must rely on the help of a mysterious astronaut (Dax Shepard) who seems to know a lot about the game, and might be their only hope of completing and finishing the game (the only way for everything to return to normal) before the dreaded lizard-like, man-eating Zorgon aliens wind up destroying their house and them as well.

The first half of Zathura is when the film is at its best and filled me with hope. The movie opens with a wonderful opening credit sequence as the camera pans across different parts of the game board. It's nostalgic 1950s-style design had me grinning all the way through the sequence. Anyone with a fondness for old fashioned sci-fi is sure to love the design of the Zathura game. The credits close, and we get a lengthy introduction to our two young heroes that is all at once funny, heartfelt, and real. These are not Hollywood kids spouting off constant one liners that only a highly paid screenwriter could come up with. Their conversations, their reactions, and their emotions are very real. I was reminded numerous times of fights or arguments I had with my own older brothers growing up. It's quite obvious that the filmmakers understand what it means to be a kid and do a very good job at establishing the relationships. Even after the board game is discovered, and the films starts to take a turn for the unbelievable, I was still enjoying it. Okay, maybe the fact that the kids could stand in front of an open door without being sucked out into the blackness of space, or having their heads explode due to lack of oxygen was kind of hard to swallow, but hey, it's a fantasy movie - I could deal.

But then along comes the mysterious astronaut, and he brings with him all of the film's problems. From heavy-handed messages about brotherly love that is about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the groin to non-stop action sequences that become increasingly louder and incoherent, Zathura seems to lose all sense of being, and turns into an overly loud and mindless video game, much like the last movie based on a Chris Van Allsburg book, The Polar Express. The movie becomes increasingly annoying as the two kids start screaming literally every line they have with increasing volume. The kids are yelling how much they hate each other, the astronaut is screaming words of wisdom on how they have to love each other and work as a team, and the aliens are screaming incoherent gibberish as they blow up every room in the house. Everybody screams in this movie, even if there's no reason to. It's almost like half-way through production director Jon Favreau lost his hearing, and told all the actors to say their lines louder. It becomes increasingly annoying as each minute slowly ticks by, and I started to wonder where the movie I was enjoying so much just a half hour ago went.

Perhaps what's even worse is that about halfway through, Zathura stops making any sort of sense, and just expects us to go along with it. Okay, I can live with the mysterious presence of gravity and oxygen in outer space, but can someone please explain to me the climax of this film when the astronaut's identity is finally revealed? I'm going to tip toe here to avoid going into spoiler territory, but it just does not make any logical sort of sense. Wouldn't the astronaut realize what was going on the second he laid eyes on the kids? It gives us an answer, but not any sort of explanation to give the answer any sort of logic, so we are left scratching our heads rather than being delighted by the revelation. It's so out of the blue that the movie probably would have been better off without it. And what about the sister? Why is she even in the movie? She serves no purpose to the story or the plot, she's just there. Her place in the movie is equally confusing, as no one even attempts to explain to her what's going on. She just simply goes along with the fact that they're somehow in outer space being attacked by lizard men, and that the board game is responsible. Heck, they don't even tell her that the board game is responsible, she just goes along with it without even being told to. Either a scene or two got cut out, or older sister is the most trusting person in the world.

It's a crying shame that everything goes into idiot mode as the movie goes on, as there's a lot to admire. The performances, when they're speaking in normal tones, are quite wonderful all around. Young Jonah Bobo and Josh Hutcherson are obviously talented young actors, and are always believable, especially during the first half of the film. I hear Josh Hutcherson is currently acting in a film called Little Manhattan, and that he's very good. I'd like to see what the kid can do when he's not being drown out by constant yelling and special effect shots. Dax Shepard as the astronaut seems likable enough, but he's really given very little to do. He's mainly there to deliver the film's heavy-handed message of working together. He's the moral center of the film, and that's all there is. I really wish they had done more with him. As mentioned before, Kristen Stewart is completely pointless as older sister Lisa - a role that could have and should have been written completely out of the script without anything being lost. Tim Robbins is good in an extended cameo as the father, but you know he's just cashing a paycheck.

I really don't know what happened here. The movie starts out striking that rare and wonderful balance between honesty and characters we can care about with special effects and action sequences. Then, the special effects stage a hostile take over, and the movie just doesn't know what to do with itself. Maybe the filmmakers lost their nerve halfway through the production process. Maybe the screenwriters just got lazy. Or maybe Chris Van Allsburg books just don't translate well when given the big budget big screen treatment. Whatever the reason, the movie is not without its charms. I just wish those charms could have stuck around to the end. Zathura is a disappointment, not because it's a bad movie, but because the first half hints at something much greater.

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Friday, November 04, 2005

Chicken Little

If Chicken Little was a smaller film, and had less riding on it, it at least could be brushed off as passable yet forgettable. Unfortunately, it is not a small release. This is supposed to be the film that brings Disney back into the limelight after a series of big budget disappointments and disposable direct to video junk getting big screen treatments. This is supposed to be the film that proves they still have what it takes to enchant audiences. Well, I'm sorry to say this, but if this is the best they can do, maybe they deserve to be outclassed by Pixar. Chicken Little is immediately forgettable, fluffy, no thrills filmmaking that will appeal only to small children who will like the bright colors and silly characters. Any animation fan over the age of 10 will probably be fidgeting in their seat by the 45 minute mark, waiting for something to happen. Director Mark Dindal (the far superior spoof The Emperor's New Groove) has all the right materials, but doesn't know how to put them together in a successful way.

The story picks up one year after Chicken Little (voiced by Zach Braff from Garden State) caused mass hysteria in his quiet little town when he claimed the sky was falling and hit him on the head. When his claims appeared to be untrue, he became the joke of everyone, and humiliated his father, Buck Cluck (voiced by filmmaker Gary Marshall), who has been struggling to raise the tiny poultry on his own ever since his wife passed away under circumstances not explained by the film. (I kept on coming up with various chicken-related deaths for her in my mind, my favorite being convicted of a crime and getting the death penalty by means of a deep fryer.) Since that fateful day, Chicken Little has been trying to put the past behind him, but it's not easy when everyone ridicules him except for his small circle of misfit friends - The "ugly duckling" Abby Mallard (Joan Cusack), pop-music quoting overweight pig, Runt of the Litter (Steve Zahn), and the mute Fish Out of Water, who walks around on dry land with a helmet full of water over his head.

Little is constantly trying to win back the respect of his father and the entire town, and decides his best shot is to try out for the baseball team, and show up his rival, the popular and bullish tomboy, Foxy Loxy (Amy Sedaris from TV's Strangers With Candy). When Chicken Little unexpectedly winds up winning the big game, he becomes the town hero. He has little time to savor his victory, however, when what seems to be another piece of the sky comes falling in through his bedroom window. Turns out, it's a piece of a spaceship that can cloak itself to anything to disguise its appearance. Little and his friends uncover a potential alien invasion of Earth, and must warn the town. Of course, given the poultry's past reputation, no one believes him at first. The tiny hero must find a way to convince his father and everyone that he's not a joke, and that the danger is real.

The above synopsis and the film's ad campaign would lead you to believe that Chicken Little uses the classic story as a leaping point for a sci-fi spoof. You, however, would be mistaken, as the entire plotline about the aliens takes up maybe 40% of the film. Most of the running time is devoted to dysfunctional family schlock aimed at kids. This wouldn't be so bad if the filmmakers and animators tried to do something original with the material, but they keep on hitting the same notes over and over again in every scene. "Why isn't my father proud of me?" "Why don't people like me?" By the time the aliens finally show up, you feel like you've been stuck in an endless therapy session with the little bird. Here is a movie that promises us aliens, and gives us the mundane instead. I am reminded of the awful live action family film, Jack Frost, with Michael Keaton. That was a movie about a father who didn't have time for his family, died, and was reincarnated into a talking snowman thanks to the power of a magical harmonica. The filmmakers filled the movie with the impossible like talking snowmen and magical instruments, and decided to instead focus solely on the mundane and ordinary like snowball fights with bullies and hockey games. Chicken Little is guilty of the same crime. Here is a movie that promises us a sci-fi spoof, and instead gives us a dysfunctional father-son relationship and baseball games. What's funny is that the movie actually features a hilarious send up of overblown Hollywood sci-fi films late in the film. This is the best scene in the movie, least of which because of the hilarious cameo by Adam West as the hero. Perhaps if Chicken Little had taken the path that it is ridiculing at this point, it could have been a much more entertaining film.


However, the screenplay is desperate and dull. Instead of making us care about the characters, it references movies that have been parodied too many times before (King Kong, Star Wars), and gives us characters we care little about because they are so vastly underwritten. Chicken Little comes across as more annoying than likable, and the miscast Zach Braff does very little to help matters. He's passable, but somehow his voice never seemed to fit the character, and none of his jokes hit. The character constantly mopes and whines about his situations through most of the film, and by the time he finally gets a backbone and becomes a hero, you really could care less. Equally underdeveloped is his relationship with female lead, Abby Mallard. She's supposed to be the shy love interest, but because their relationship is never developed in any way, their hooking up at the end seems forced and does not register any emotion. Joan Cusack does what she can with her role, but since she mainly acts as a source of dispensing advice for the hero, she never gets a chance to truly come into her own. Instead, the film decides to focus on the obnoxious comic relief, Runt of the Litter, who due to the fact that he constantly quotes pop songs and movie lines in his dialogue, may as well have been called "Pop Culture Pig". It's bad enough that the movie has numerous music montages set to pop songs (at one point, they literally have two right after another without anything in-between), but do we need a character who speaks pop songs in his dialogue?

Okay, so we've got a mundane plot and an uninspired script. What's strike three for Chicken Little? The uninspired character designs. If this was a lesser studio, I might have been able to forgive it, but come on! Disney can do better than this! Chicken Little himself seems to be more than a little bit inspired by a minor Looney Tunes character named Egghead who appeared in a couple Foghorn Leghorn cartoons. I'm not saying he's a blatant rip off, but I definitely think whoever designed him had that character in mind. There is not one single appealing or original design in this movie. All the characters look generic or uninspired. The biggest offense are the aliens themselves, who look like Furby toys crossed with the hair of a Troll doll. If that doesn't scream corporate influence, I don't know what does. I'm sure they'll look cute as stuffed toys hanging on the hooks of your local Disney Store, but as character designs for an animated feature, they stink. I could name about a hundred other cartoon characters who look more appealing than the entire cast of Chicken Little. I said it before, and I'll say it again - If this is the best Disney can do, they deserve to be outclassed by Pixar.


Is there anything to salvage from the wreckage of this failed attempt at a family classic? Well, aside from the previously mentioned sci-fi spoof scene, the only character who made me crack a smile was the mayor of Little's town, Turkey Lurkey. As voiced by Don Knotts, Turkey Lurkey is one of the few characters in the film who is actually funny. Yeah, the joke of an elected official not being able to make decisions on his own has been done to death, but hey, it still works, and Knotts is immensely likable in the role. Plus, it's always nice to see him in another Disney project. Too bad they couldn't get Tim Conway to do a voice as well. The film also has a clever moment early on where they tie in actual footage of Raiders of the Lost Ark into the movie. Other than these fleeting moments, I cannot think of one single worthwhile moment.

Chicken Little is a small and forgettable little film that has too much riding on it. The thing is Disney seemed to know it, and they did not do enough to truly stand out from the increasingly crowded computer animation field. Disney used to be innovators, setting bench marks for the industry. With this film, they seem to be content to follow the mob, as this movie seemed to be more than a little inspired by some of Dreamworks' efforts. My question is why? Why try to do what everyone else is doing? Pixar is successful because they do something completely different each and every time. I'm not saying they should copy Pixar, I'm just saying Disney really needs to rethink their strategy. I'm sure Chicken Little will hit it big with the under 10 hit (one little girl walking out of the theater said she couldn't wait to see it again), but if they think this is going to re-establish them as a force in the industry, they're dreaming.

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