Sunday, November 13, 2005

Chicken Little

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—2. Overview Basic (dial up speed)
—3. Reviews and Blogs
—4. Cast and Crew
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—6. Trailers, Clips, DVDs, Books, Soundtrack
—7. Posters (animated films)
—8. Production Notes (pdf)
—9. Spiritual Connections
—10. Presentation Downloads


by Ken & Janet Priebe

enlargeWe've just come home from the theater pleasantly surprised by the newest Disney venture! Quite honestly, we weren't sure what to expect or think about this one. The opening to the film kind of symbolically summed up the thoughts that many in the animation field have been thinking: the narrator struggles for ways to open up the story, trying the classic 'Once upon a time' over pixie dust, the sunrise opening to The Lion King, and the familiar 'opening storybook', and subsequently rejects them all, finally deciding on 'it all started when things had taken a turn for the worse'.

In the usual fashion of their films reflecting what's going on in the studio at the time, this is very likely Disney's tongue-in-cheek response to the misguided decision by management to completely put an end to the 2D medium for their feature films. In a panic over losing their partnership with Pixar, the conclusion is that people don't want to see moving drawings anymore, they want everything CGI. This has been disturbing to many of the 2D purists out there, and no doubt to the animators themselves who are literally being told 'throw out your pencil and learn the computer or you're out of here.' So the buzz on Chicken Little has been a bitter pill for many to swallow. Many are hoping that all of their CG features will bomb, so that Disney will think, 'Hmm, I thought computers were supposed to make better films! Maybe we should go back to 2d....' Of course what nobody is realizing is that two little things called STORY and CHARACTERS are what make a film good, regardless of the tools used.

enlargeThat being said, they did make a good choice for the director of their all new CG reign. Mark Dindal started at Disney as an effects animator, and in the mid-90s had a brief stint at Turner Features directing Cats Don't Dance, and afterwards Disney's Emperor's New Groove. Both of these films are fast, frantic, and very reminiscent of older films by Warner Brothers and MGM. In other words, classically 'cartoony.' Dindal's style has always been hard to take in a Disney feature, because it does fit in more with the Looney Tunes/Tex Avery mold. Such was the reaction of many to Groove; it's almost too fast and zany for Disney. Personally, I'm a big fan of what Dindal does, because it goes outside the norm and is also just fun to watch. The rubbery slapstick feel of these films has successfully been translated into the 3D medium for Chicken Little, so much so that many times we forgot it was computer animation.

There are common themes running through Dindal's films of outcasts yearning for acceptance, and communication. Cats Don't Dance is a delightful tribute to 1940s Hollywood musicals, about a renegade group of animals who want to be given equal treatment with humans in the movie business. Groove is a buddy picture about a peasant seeking fair treatment from a king, who in turn humbly learns a lesson in compassion & friendship. In Chicken Little, the central theme is that of the relationship between a father and son, how they are each dealing with the loss of a wife & mother, and their attempts to communicate with each other. Much like my previous analogy to the abyss scream scene from Garden State, all of these animated characters are just SCREAMING TO BE HEARD! Tying back to the animators at Disney, the cartoony feel behind the CGI represents their voice emphasizing their ability and refusal to succumb to any limitations that may be forced upon them. Like Chicken Little himself, they believe 'today is a new day' and they want to make sure they are allowed to shine. It really shows through the animation that they are wanting to make sure they can keep doing with the computer what they've always been doing with their pencils. So far, thanks to Dindal's vision, it's working much better than Dinosaur did, that's for certain.

enlargeHow many of us REALLY listen to people when they try to communicate with us? How hard do we try to figure out what's going on inside people's hearts and minds? If we're to be honest, it's common for us to put blinders on to what people are trying to say and draw our own conclusions. Througout Chicken Little, dynamics between the characters present several situations where they attempt to get their points across to no avail. Chicken Little tries to warn the townspeople that 'the sky is falling', and the result is fear, rejection and ridicule. Such was the reaction of many to Jesus and his radical claims, for example when he is thrown out of the synagogue in Luke chapter 4.

'No prophet is accepted in his hometown.'
Luke 4:24

The town will not listen to Chicken Little, but neither will his father, Buck. An interesting scene in the principal's office shows how the principal's assumption is that Buck, who has a past reputation as the school baseball hero, simply got an untalented son who is nothing like him. Chicken Little's attempts to explain himself to Buck is shrugged off, simply by saying 'it doesn't matter.' Soon after we find out that Buck is simply a widower struggling with his own ability as a single parent, which is something he keeps to himself. Because he has a reputation to uphold, he responds more in public embarassment to Chicken Little's antics rather than deal with the issue at hand of connecting with his son better. (In Scripture we have another character named Peter, who is embarassed to admit he knows Jesus and denies him 3 times.)

In turn, Chicken Little also avoids the issue of opening up to his father despite the persistent magazine-column advice from his best friend Abby Mallard. So in this way, Buck's behavior is being emulated in his own son. They both display a refusal to listen which breaks down the communication between them. In the end, when disaster strikes, Abby's advice is finally taken. With Abby's character acting as the voice of reason trying to mend this broken bond between father and son, she becomes somewhat of a Christ figure in the story. This symbolism is further emphasized by the fact that in Isaiah chapter 53, we are reminded that Jesus might have been rather ugly in appearance, rather than the blue-eyed prince Hollywood often depicts him as. (This deceptive beauty is also parodied at the end of Chicken Little, where Abby is portrayed as an attractive sexpot, when in reality she is referred to as the 'Ugly Duckling')

Through empathizing with Chicken Little and his little band of outcasts, I couldn't help but think of the kind of ruffians Jesus chose to be his disciples. They would have been the 'un-popular' kids getting whacked with dodgeballs. Chicken Little reminded me of Zaccheus, who was too short to see over the crowd, so he had to climb a tree in order to get a glimpse of Jesus. It is this gesture of faith that is brought forth in the image of Chicken Little sitting on his rooftop, praying for just one chance at greatness, for he knows he cannot achieve it on his own.

One final inkling of Biblical imagery in Chicken Little was near the end of the film when the sky appears to split from end to end, resulting in a full scale invasion from the alien spacecraft. In Luke 17 Jesus figuratively describes the coming of God's kingdom as 'lightning which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other.' To those unprepared for the Second Coming of Christ, this event will seem very much like an invasion, but it is, in fact, the final act of a rescue mission. The whole point of this apocalyptic scene is simply to save a small alien 'child', who is as precious as a lost sheep, coin, or son (Luke 15). Indeed, Christ 'invaded' once already to save us, and when he invades again it will be to take us home for good.

So when the sky really DOES fall, will you listen?

—1. Overview (multimedia)
—2. Overview Basic (dial up speed)
—3. Reviews and Blogs
—4. Cast and Crew
—5. Photo Pages
—6. Trailers, Clips, DVDs, Books, Soundtrack
—7. Posters (animated films)
—8. Production Notes (pdf)
—9. Spiritual Connections
—10. Presentation Downloads

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