Little Chickens, and other cinematic pains

Another Sunday morning screening- and in this case, it was the new Disney movie CHICKEN LITTLE. Virtually everything I’d seen and heard about the film had prepared me for a pretty painful time, but I really wasn’t prepared for how horribly cynical a move for Disney this really is. Chicken Little is their first all CGI movie, their first computer animation without Dreamworks, and has been widely held up as one of their last chances to try and grab back their positions as a major Animation Studio to be reckoned with, and not just a factory for churning out substandard sequels to much better movies.

Well, it’s pretty obvious the main thought that was going through the head of Disney Executives- fear. Naked, unquestioning fear.

DISNEY EXEC: Oh crap! What are we going to do? We’ve lost Pixar! Our last movie was Brother f£%@ing Bear! If we don’t get a hit, we’ll be in serious trouble!

DISNEY EXEC 2: Yeah, and those Dreamworks animations have been doing really well- the Bastards!

DISNEY EXEC: That’s it! That’s the answer!! All we have to do is exactly what Dreamworks are doing, and everything will work out fine!

As a result, we’ve got a Disney film that’s shrill, obnoxious, and crammed full of pointless pop culture gags. It’s like being stuck in a lift with an epileptic, attention-deficit Clown on anphetamines, and it’s so desperate to please that the whole thing gets monstrously wearying. The character designs (apart from the slightly creepy Chicken Little) are all plasticy and rather unpleasent to look at, and the story isn’t actually a story- it’s an excuse for a lot of noise, running around, screaming and falling over. Nothing in the film adds up to anything, and it’s all done with the bane of modern animated movies- the post-modern wink at the audience.

Of course, it’s Disney who started this all back in 1993 by letting Robin Williams loose as the Genie in Aladdin to do Robert DeNiro and Jack Nicolson impressions. Back then, it was new, it was shocking, and it was hilarious. Now, it’s invaded the texture of US animated movies to such an extent that they’re virtually becoming unwatchable. Chicken Little is stuffed full of this stuff, where it doesn’t even need to be a gag, it’s enough just to make a reference to a movie or a pop song because- hey- imagining that Nursery Rhyme and kids story characters might be “hip and happening” is, like, really funny! There are references to things like King Kong and War of the Worlds that are just pointlessly thrown in with no rhyme and reason- and even the frankly rather appalling emotional subplot involving Chicken Little’s relationship with his disbelieving dad has to be treated with the same “hilarious” post-modern winking, actually drawing attention to the fact that they bring the movie to a complete standstill just so the characters can have a heart to heart!

It’s crass. It’s loud. It’s noisy. There are piss jokes. Burp jokes. There’s a joke “Hey, isn’t Once Upon a Time such a dated, non-hip way of opening a story?” opening that’s almost directly ripped off from Shrek (as is the non-stop pop music that’s slathered over the soundtrack). Once the alien invasion plotline becomes more prominent, there are a few cool bits of animation and some funky ideas, but not enough to outweigh the monstrous soullessness of it all. They’ve torched the idea of traditional animation- but they aren’t carrying anything over, they aren’t using the methods used in films like Beauty and the BEast, Cinderella or The Lion King. They’re just doing what everybody else is doing because they know it will sell. If you make it loud, colourful and market the fuck out of it, they will come. And, what really upsets me about this kind of thing, is that its burying the art of decent storytelling further and further under a mountain of self-referential humour. Fairly soon, US animated films will be self-referencing themselves out of existence- they’ll just be collections of pop culture gags that will make no sense whatsoever to anyone in ten years time. They’ll be the norm. As long as it’s bright and loud and people fall over, nobody’s going to care if the story is good. And that makes me very, very sad.

I also couldn’t help notice that despite plenty of laughter (mostly at the gags I didn’t find funny), the cinema never completely quietened down, which didn’t surprise me that much. Of course, there are still people like Pixar who place storytelling above everything else- but the latest trailer for the new Pixar movie Cars has me a little worried- the big-toothed yokel car isn’t filling me with a huge amount of confidence.

Right. I feel like I’ve got that off my chest. I also picked up The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker, an excellent book that kind of leapt from the shelf into my hand and said “Buy Me!!” I’m also determined to try and get back to learning Japanese. There’s lots to do this week, and I’ve got to try and fit everything in. I’m determined to make it, but getting it right will be a little difficult. More writing will be done.

Okay. I’m all talked out for the moment. More soon.

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