DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Chicken Little; The Chronicles of Narnia ; Prince Caspian; Monster House; The Nightmare Before Christmas; Sunny; Bridge to Terabithia; Ratatouille; Lifted; The Golden Compass, The Simpsons Movie, WALL'E, The Pixar Story, Caroline, A Christmas Carol

Title:  Chicken Little

Release Date:  2005

Nationality and Language:  USA, English

Running time: 81 min

MPAA Rating: G

Distributor and Production Company: Buena Vista/Walt Disney

Director; Writer: Mark Dindal

Producer: Randy Fullmer

Cast:   Voices: Zach Braff, Gary Marshall, Don Knotts, Patrick Stewart, Mark Dindal, many others

Technical: Digital DLP with Disney 3-D. This may be the first animated feature in 3-D

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site: self-promotion

“The sky is falling.” Well, indeed it isn’t, not when a ballistrade rolls on city streets, and not when an acorn falls on Chicken Little (Zach Braff’s voice), and he starts a citywide panic when he mistakes it for the sky. 

I pause a moment, as this little saying has been popular in the workplace, especially on a Medicare project that I worked on in Texas in the early 80s, CABCO. Every steering committee meeting, every plan presidents’ meeting we would revert back to the original 1943 cartoon.

 Well, Little’s stunt inspires a website, book and movie, to the great embarrassment of his father, who warns him to keep a low profile. Little is accused of drawing attention to himself, of self-promotion, when he is really just a sissy. Nevermind that he is much smaller than his contemporaries. He sort of comes across as a special ed kid, maybe emotionally disturbed, maybe with Aspergers, someone who gets picked on by the other kids because he doesn’t measure up and just wants to cause trouble. He is, well, chicken. Maybe he would carry bird flu.

 He is forced to pinch hit in a softball game with the home team (the Acorns) down 14-13 and down to the last out. He is told to take the walk, because his strike zone is too small. But he swings and misses twice, while the fielders go to sleep. On the good old two-strike pitch he hits a Texas leaguer fly – as far as he can hit it, and the sleeping outfielders let if fall and bounce all the way to the fence. Chicken, not knowing at first which way to run, legs out an inside-the-park home run and wins the game, 15-14. The home team does have the advantage of the last ups.

 Then Little sees something really fall out of the sky. Here the movie goes off into paraphrases of Signs, War of the Worlds, and perhaps Donnie Darko. He follows up, watches crop circles get drawn, and gets abducted. Returned, he tells the townspeople, but the UFOs disappear. But then they come back, parsing the entire sky into hexagons as if the world were to become one big beehive. “It’s the end of civilization as we know it.” Maybe, or maybe not.  A much more favorable movie about Chicken Little will get premiered a year later.

 There are some similarities between this any my own story, but some differences. I promoted my own books and website, whereas in this story third parties did. But maybe indeed the movie is next. A good “sign.”

 So is Little finally a hero because he attracted attention to himself but attracted the revelation of a dangerous truth, that people didn’t want to hear?  Was he the way he way because he rejected conformity, socialization, and the experience of Faith the way other people expect? Did he have to go his own way and then find out the real truth? Interesting philosophy for a kids’ movie. But great satire. 

 The film is shot flat (standard aspect), but technically the 3-D version is stunning, perhaps the best 3-D that I have ever seen. We really feel like we live in their world for 80 minutes. It’s like looking through a living room picture window. The creatures become wonderful characters, with clever visual analogies taking advantage of zoology: hairy arms in people turn into limbs covered with hair-like feathers.

 Disney, in 2006, made an anamorphic short of this material (not clear that it is a preview for a “Chicken Little 2” but I bet that is on the boards).

 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion. The Witch and the Wardrobe (2005, Buena Vista/Walt Disney/Sony/Walden Media, dir. Andrew Adamson, based on the novel by C. S. Lewis, PG, 140 mi USA/UK/New Zealand). A lot has been said already about the Christian theology mapped by this fantasy, and it’s a pretty good example of how a “kid’s movie” can get into adult topics. Four middle school kids (by age and appearance, played by Lucie Pevensie, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell) have been trapped by the blitz during the Battle of Britain. One girl finds a portal to a parallel universe, Narnia, through the wardrobe closet. It is perpetual winter, and she meets gentle Tumnus (James McAvoy), a half-man centaur-like being, whose chest and forearms are artificially decorated with scraggly, white hair. Soon she returns and gets the three other kids (one of them gets in trouble playing backyard cricket and breaking a window). One of the kids is kidnapped, but the other three going on a journey through Narnia, where the encounter animal-people (beavers and wolves—the canines being hostile),  and eventually the evil White Witch (Tilda Swinton). But they will be rescued by the Aslan the Lion, and fight a medieval battle against the Jadis.  The good guys include cheetahs, and this is definitely a movie for people who perceive cats as people or even as gods. Now Aslan’s enemies capture him and “kill” him—after shaving part of his mane and body, a procedure that could be interpreted as male hazing and humiliation. But Aslan rises from the dead, in parallel to Jesus in the Bible and leads the battle. The kids are called “sons of Adam and Eve” and this gets into all of the theology.  You can draw some other parallels here, as with Clive Barker’s novel Imajica where people and creatures pass among reconciled dominions. Narnia does not seem to be as complicated a world as Middle Earth in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Instead, it seems to be a metaphor for the heavens, where good and fallen angels battle. In my own novel work, I have a setup where Saturn’s moon Titan (as well as a twin solar system ninety light years away) serve the same purpose.

(II) The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008, Walt Disney, dir. Andrew Adamson, 146 min). The Penvesie siblings go through a wormhole in the London subway (shades of Matrix) to return to Narnia and get Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) back on the throne. William Moseley and Shandhar Keynes both have tremendous charisma as miracle brothers; William emulates Prince William in the way he carries off the role. The lion Aslan is still a god (what cat isn't) and mice can talk (as in Suart Little). The technology is like that of Joan of Arc, with impressive trebuchet attacks. Some of the visual concepts recall "Lord of the Rings".

 Monster House (2006, Columbia/ImageMovers/Amblin, dir. Gil Kenan, 91 min, PG). “There goes the neighborbood.” And indeed there are no nailbed fungi here. No, it’s a haunted house that is a live, and turns into a monster, because a ghost of a woman inhabits it. The story has shades of Burnt Offerings and even Northfork. It even reminds me of a short story that I wrote in French in 9th Grade, “La Vielle Mansion” where one goes into the old house and finds oneself on Mars.  But of course, you have to do this movie’s concept with animation, which now is the material of choice for new 3-D. We still have the glasses, but they are smaller, and even without them there is little fuzz now. Furthermore, this film was in anamorphic aspect ratio. The opening shot, of an orange autumn leaf, filled with carotenes, falling to the ground was a spectacular as any.  There is a peripatetic babysitter, who manipulates the house for her own ends, and then a scam artist visits them (Halloween morning) and threatens to TP (toilet paper) the house unless she pays tribute money—and pocket some pyramid profits. But the haunted house (across the street, owned by a decaying old man and visible to the kids by a “Rear Window”-like telescope) can eat kids out (with typical plumbing fixtures turning into an alimentary canal with peristalsis), and upchuck the kids out. The kids talk about zoological anatomy, like the uvula (which gets mixed up with uterus). The house turns into a langolier-like monster, nothing but an open mouth made of boards, with an attitude. Real estate developers get satirized, as they have dug out the lake and left strip mining equipment around for kids to operate.  

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993/2006, Walt Disney Pictures/Touchstone/Skellington, dir. Henry Selick, story by Tim Burton, adaptation by Michael McDowell, 76 min, PG). This film is a Disney reissue, in Disney Digital 3-D, from Kodak, in regular aspect ratio. It was apparently the first film to use “stop-motion” techniques in animation. It is in limited theatrical release in theaters equipped to show the Kodal digital process. The story recalls Clive Barker’s kids’ novella “The Thief of Always,” with multiple holidays, and maybe it is “too scary.” Jack Skellington decides to do the move from Halloweentown to Christmastown, and on Christmas eve he delivers scary toys to the kids, and regular Santa’s run is almost canceled by the police. The film has Tim Burton’s delicious use of near black and white in the Halloween scenes, and that makes the Christmas seem like a redemption. There are scary effects, as a live lobster boiled alive, or a building that looks like a dead octopus turned into a tripod from “War of the Worlds.” At one point, a character says, “I am an elected official. I can’t make decisions for myself.” How true.

 The 2006 release is preceded by a Pixar short, Sunny, that seems to recreate the 7 wonders of the world 

Bridge to Terabithia (2007, Walt Disney Pictures, dir. Gabor Csupo, novel by Katherine Paterson, New Zealand, PG, 96 min). A fifth grader Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) dreams to be the best runner in the class, but is beaten by a girl Leslie Burke (Anna Sphie Robb). But, with the help of a treehouse and imagination, build a friendship, and in a fairy tale setting she transports him to an imaginary kingdom with a touch of Tolkien. She comes to a tragic end in an accident, but he builds a bridge with his hands to recreate the fantasy. The realities of daily life are oppressing. The teacher, in a class in English composition, assigns the kids to watch a particular television program about rescue swimming (like The Guardian, maybe) and write it up, and the girl asks what happens if they don't have a TV. This actually almost happened in seventh grade once (in 1955), but most of the time, teachers then said, "Read, don't watch television." There is plenty of middle school kids behavior and a need for teacher discipline.  

Ratatouille (2007, Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar, dir. Brad Bird, 110 min, animated, G). This may be Pixar's most animated effort ever, Cinemascope, with delicious (pun intended) visual details every where, most of all in the commercial restaurant kitchen and the food itself. The story is layered. A rat "Remy"  is separated from its family, winds up in a Paris restaurant, where it befriends a spindly young teen boy Linguini, who is the unsuspected son to the previous owner, Gusteau, who died. Just why the current owner scammed him out of the will isn't quite clear. But the body of the film is a delight. Remy reads and memorizes Gusteau's cookbook (it reminds me of the award winning "Dove's Nest" from Texas-- there are prizes for cookbooks), sneaks into the kitchen, and teaches the boy to cook ("anyone can cook") by tugging at his red hair underneath the crepe chef's hat. Then there is the newspaper critic Anton Ego to please; the story takes place in the days of typewriters, but Ego is obviously the equivalent of a blogger today. (Like the Harry Potter movies, this film uses the idea of animated portraits and embedded newspaper photos as a kind of "YoutTube".) It turns into a comic romp, dealing with the critics, the health inspectors, and the whole clan or rats cook for the guests. The characters have so much charisma that you really want to see this film played with real actors.  The movie really gives you the feel that being a chef is very hard work. (I once was in a family restaurant in Martinsburg, W Va and overheard a conversation from a manager about a waiter or cook, "His movements are too slow." The movements are very fast in this movie.)  The visual depiction of the foot, the ingredients, even the rosemary spice, is breathtaking. A G movie can really be interesting. (Some of the dialogue is racy for G -- like his sleeves look like he threw up on them, and Colette does become a girl friend. The title of the movie is, of course, a pun itself. The product as shown is indeed a vegetable "stew" roll. 

I saw the film in Digital DLP.   

Lifted (2006, Walt Disney / Pixar, dir. Gary Rydstrom, about 6 min, G) is an animated short in which a UFO hovers over a farm house and young aliens try to abduct the boy through the window and trees. They wind up abducting the house and not the boy and leaving a Tunguska crater. It reminds me of Whitley Strieber's "Communion."

The Golden Compass (2007, New Line Cinema, dir. Chris Weitz, novel by Philip Pullman, from "The Dark Trilogy," 113 min, PG-13, UK). I once bought a small astrolabe, which is an interesting manual ancient computer. In this movie the Golden Compass resembles the astrolabe a little, and is called an alethiometer. It functions as an inter-universe Google, doing searches by invoking the "dust" that links parallel universes (the scientific terms are more like quarks or branes).  Dakota Blue Richards is the twelve year old herione Lyra, who journeys to the arctic to save her friend who is undergoing what amounts to reparative therapy in a hostel run by the Gobblers. The Magisterium (e.g. Vatican) doesn't like the idea that kids get new ideas, about Dust, or enjoy Daemons as playmates in the form of talking animals (the cats in this movie are wonderful, and nearly human, as is the armored polar bear at the end). There is even an "aversion therapy" device to separate the child from the Daemons. Politically, of course, the Magistry just wants to stay in power and says it can take care of people. The world in the movie looks a bit like that of Jules Verne, with ornate 19th Century oriental architecture overlaying London, and blimps instead of airplanes, and no computers (all the technology is mechanical, or relates to Dust). Nicole Kidman is the wicked godmother, and Daniel Craig is Lord Asriel, Tome Courtenay is Farder, and Sam Elliot is the advisor Lee Scoresby, with a presence right out of westerns.

Chris Weitz, recall, starred in "Chuck & Buck."  

The Simpsons Movie (2007, 20th Century Fox, dir. David Silverman, wr. Matt Groening and James L. Brooks, 87 min, PG-13) I am said to resemble Mr. Burns, who appears only in a cameo in the end credits. Pretty merry romp about nuclear waste and big abusive government. Blogger review here.

WALL'E (2008, Walt Disney / Pixar, dir. Andrew Stanton) is an animated fantasy about a scavenger robot and a female explorer robot who meet, and communicate to bloated earthlings at a space station near Saturn that the burned-out earth is healed enough for them to go back, perhaps to a Maxist peasant life. Blogger. With an animated short ("cartoon") called "Presto and the Hat" about a magician (with balding legs not hidden by gartered socks) who does not pull off "the prestige."  The DVD #1 includes a short called "Burn" about another robot BURN-E. DVD 2 has shorts called The Imperfect Lens: Creating the Look of WALL*E”, ” “Captain’s Log: The Evolution of Humans” “Notes on a Score” “Robo Everything” “WALL*E and Eve” as well as The History of Buy N Large” “Operation Cleanup” “All Aboard the Axiom” “Captaining the Axiom” “Meet the Bal Boys”.

The Pixar Story (2008, Walt Disney, dir. Leslie Iwerks) tells the story of the Pixar animation studios ("Toy Story", 2, Monsters Inc.) starting with the dreams of Frank Lasseter in the 1970s. Pixar had to go public and become a full studio to have enough capital, and at one time George Lucas sold his 3D techniques to medical imaging companies. 

Caroline (2009, Focus, dir. Henry Selick, novel by Neil Gaiman, PG, 100 min, PG). Animated film where a child goes into an alternate universe to find alternate versions of her parents, with buttons for eyes. Trouble is, they try to button her eyes. 3-D. Blogger.

A Christmas Carol (2009, Walt Disney, dir. Robert Zemeckis, story by Charles Dickens, PG, UK).  Jim Carrey is everyman, and the leg hair is gone. Blogger.

Related reviews:. Signs   War of the Worlds   Donnie Darko  The Lord of the Rings   Clive Barker’s Imajica (book)   Corpse Bride

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