Disney’s first inhouse all-CG animated feature, “Chicken Little,” lives up to its name by serving up a fraction of what audiences are used to getting in this department from Pixar and DreamWorks — little originality, little humor and little ingratiating characterization. Under-nourishing and highly derivative fast-food item probably will ring up less B.O. than most of the high-flying animated features of recent holiday seasons, although the Disney imprimatur and marketing muscle still will send it on a highly profitable journey through every segment of its commercial playoff.
Unprepossessing pic feels secondhand in all respects: It spins off a tiresomely familiar fairy tale, takes place in the sort of idealized small town that’s long since come to feel shopworn, references pop culture touchstones as laboriously as did “Shark Tale,” spotlights a father-son dynamic that blandly echoes that of “Finding Nemo,” is upfront in poaching from “War of the Worlds” for its dramatic climax and comes in a distant second to “Jimmy Neutron” in the coolness of its outer space gizmos and creatures. In short, “Chicken Little” looks recycled inside and out.
One could go further and say the film apes “Ice Age” in that the action hinges on an acorn, or at least what appears to be one. Upon being beaned, the diminutive and bespectacled title character (voiced by Zach Braff), who sports a large white head atop a wimpy torso, throws the town of Oakey Oaks into a tizzy by insisting the heavens above are about to land upon the citizenry’s heads.
When this fails to come to pass, the newly minted and pointedly unathletic social outcast determines to win his widower father’s respect by excelling at baseball. Pennant-deciding game fills up the first act in ho-hum fashion but doesn’t resolve everything with dad (Garry Marshall, Bronx accent conspicuous in context); that provokes one of Chicken Little’s buddies, the web-footed Abby Mallard (Joan Cusack), to go on in tedious jargon about finding “closure” and staging an “intervention” that no doubt will resonate deeply with all the 8-year-olds in the audience.
Rounding out the scintillating group of central characters are a disturbingly overweight young porker named Runt of the Litter (Steve Zahn), who’s into Streisand records and can be relied upon to overreact hysterically to all occurrences; and Fish Out of Water, who wears a water-filled diving helmet (the reverse of Sandy in “SpongeBob SquarePants”) and therefore cannot utter a single intelligible word.
When flying saucers arrive and cough up aggressive robotic octopi with long thin tentacles, there is legitimate concern that the local population, and specifically dad, may not believe the feathered pariah’s warnings. It takes a while for everyone to figure out what the extraterrestrials are really up to, but Chicken Little’s role in resolving matters favorably is deemed sufficiently inspiring to warrant an elaborate bigscreen telling, “Chicken Little: The True Story,” SRO preem of which serves as the final scene.
Penned by the team of Steve Bencich and Ron J. Friedman, who wrote Disney’s pallid “Brother Bear,” along with newcomer Ron Anderson, the script aspires to “Shrek”-like impudence and wit, but cannot transcend its conventional thinking and attitudes on matters big and small. Borderline frantic pace resembles that of the directing-producing team of Mark Dindal and Randy Fullmer’s 2000 Disney feature “The Emperor’s New Groove.”
Visuals are bright without being distinguished, while John Debney’s eclectic score is all but overwhelmed by an avalanche of mostly ’70s pop hits.