Although Disney studios have got a great and profitable film franchise on the go with the Pirates of the Caribbean series, the animated division has not been faring so well. Depending on whose opinion you ask, either 1999’s Tarzan or even as far back as 1994’s The Lion King was the last genuinely good Disney cartoon.
Since the arrival of the likes of Pixar and Dreamworks and the 3D computer-animated successes of films like Shrek, Toy Story and The Incredibles, Disney’s position as the undisputed king of Hollywood animation has been so badly undermined that many no longer even consider it a competitor for the title.
The final nail in the coffin seemed to come last year with the release of the distinctly sub-par Home on the Range – the last hand-drawn, 2D feature-length Disney cartoon before bosses closed its old animation studios.
This is Disney’s somewhat belated attempt to catch up with its far younger rivals with the studio’s first fully computer-animated feature film – all of 24 years after Disney first used computer-animated images in the groundbreaking 1982 cult classic TRON, and 15 years after the studio’s Beauty and the Beast wowed audiences with the melding of hand-drawn and computer animation. Although 2003’s Finding Nemo was a Disney/Pixar team up, this is the first time Disney has produced a fully computer-animated feature film entirely on its own.
Yet the reason for the lack of success of Disney cartoons over the last couple of decades has only partly been due to its falling behind in technological terms – it was largely due to the lack of decent stories and absorbing characters. Films like Mulan and Pocahontas simply could never compete with the timelessly entertaining likes of Lady and the Tramp or Robin Hood – neither of which, in technical terms, are anywhere near the quality of even the most half-hearted of Disney’s more recent output, yet remain perennial favourites that keep managing to appeal to new generations of children.
Even when given classic stories on a plate, as with The Hunchback of Notre Dame or Hercules, the conversion of these tales to the screen seemed to lack that sparkle which older Disney adaptations like Snow White or Pinocchio possessed in abundance.
Sadly for Disney, Chicken Little is far from being a new Bambi or Dumbo. Centred around a brainy chick in a town populated by the by now familiar array of animals with goofy voices and idiosyncrasies which could have been plucked from anything from Shark Tale to Madagascar, even the alien invasion which forms the centrepiece of the movie fails to appear fresh.
The entire film seems somewhat derivative, with few genuinely good jokes, no stand-out songs, and hardly anything original to make it stand above the herd of computer-generated kids’ films that by now any parents will be more than familiar with.
This is not to say that children won’t still want to see it, nor that they won’t enjoy it. It is, however, a real shame that in its drive to modernise, the Disney studio seems to have forgotten that little sparkle of fairy dust which, as with its classic Peter Pan, really made its films fly high above those of its rivals.