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Film review: Fall for clever 'Chicken Little'

Film has a goofy sweetness that will delight kids, adults

CHICKEN LITTLE — *** — Animated feature starring the voices of Zach Braff, Garry Marshall, Joan Cusack and others; rated G (animated violence, vulgarity).

"Chicken Little" features a lot of clever ideas. In fact, it has more clever ideas than laugh-out-loud moments.

As a result, this digitally animated feature is not quite as funny as we may have hoped. But it does have a peculiar, goofy sweetness to it, and the sheer inventiveness of the whole thing makes it pretty enjoyable.

The movie also tries to get by on the charm of its voice cast, which is a smart idea. Zach Braff ("Garden State") voices the panicky title character, and other characters are voiced by such veteran comic performers as Don Knotts, Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara.

In this updating of the popular children's tale, Chicken Little has already signaled one (apparently) false alarm about the sky falling, which has driven a wedge between him and most of his fellow townsfolk. It's also put him at odds with his widower father, Buck Cluck (Garry Marshall).

Chicken Little is so desperate to impress him that he joins his school's baseball team. And to everyone's surprise, he has at least one big success on the diamond, which returns him to his father's good graces. However, that makes it even more unfortunate when a piece of the sky conks Chicken Little on the head. It turns out to be a panel from a UFO, but now he's reluctant to tell anyone about it as it may jeopardize his newfound popularity.

The Who's Who comic cast also features Joan Cusack as Chicken Little's best friend, Abby Mallard (a k a the Ugly Duckling), while Steve Zahn is Runt of the Litter, a karaoke-obsessed piglet.

Ironically, a silent character named Fish Out of Water gets the film's biggest laughs, and there are some jokes here that parents are more likely to appreciate than younger members of the audience.

Also, as expected with most kids' films these days, there are unfortunate vulgar moments (bodily function humor) and the alien sequences — some of which recall the recent "War of the Worlds" remake — are a little intense. But the digital animation is very impressive (especially the detailing of characters' feathers and fur), and the brisk pacing by director Mark Dindal ("The Emperor's New Groove") ensures that it practically flies by.

"Chicken Little" is rated G, though it does contain scenes of animated violence (much of it slapstick, though there are some exciting extraterrestrial attacks), and some vulgar references and jokes about bodily functions. Running time: 80 minutes.