Monday, November 07, 2005
The “sky” is “falling”
While Janet was in Chicago this weekend, Jamie and I had a full slate of things to do: go to hockey games, wash and vacuum the cars, go swimming, get haircuts, and buy looseleaf binders to hold his thousands of baseball cards. Among other things.
And go to the opening of Chicken Little, which was by far the weekend’s highest-grossing movie. I wasn’t expecting much. I was wrong.
Chicken Little turns out to be a remarkable piece of work. A postmodern update on the children’s classic and a powerful allegory for our times. Jamie and I were blown away, and here’s why.
Chicken Little opens with yet another take on the father-son dramas that have been making the rounds of Hollywood the past few years, from Finding Nemo to Big Fish. But this one’s more in the mode of Austin Powers 3, insofar as it deals with the trauma of a son who isn’t adequately recognized or supported by his accomplished, well-respected father. I wonder where filmmakers get the ideas for these things! Anyway, Chicken Little claims the sky is falling . . .
Warning: Allegorical Spoiler Alert. The Entire Movie is Given Away Below!
. . . and thereby embarrasses his father before the entire town. Chastened, the son decides to try to win his father’s love by competing with his father on his father’s own terrain: he joins the school baseball team on which his father once starred. Chicken Little, however, has no aptitude whatsoever for the sport—he can barely hold a bat—and contributes nothing to the team for most of the season. Suddenly, however, in the Big Game, Chicken Little hits a game-winning inside-the-park home run, a complete fluke, further marred by the fact that he initially starts running (after miraculously hitting the ball on an 0-2 count) down the third-base line.
And with that one lucky moment, he has matched his father’s exploits and redeemed himself in his father’s eyes, after having been such a profound disappointment.
Now, here’s where things take a turn for the weird, and we leave the world of Walt Disney for the world of David Lynch. Once the son has matched the father’s success, however haphazardly, he experiences a complete psychotic break, and begins to believe he has obtained material evidence that the sky is, in fact, falling. The delusion builds until he is fantasizing a full-scale attack on his homeland, involving fearsome weapons of mass destruction; crucially, the only other characters who can “see” these weapons are a small cabal of misfits—the ugly duckling, the “runt of the litter” (an enormous pig), and a “fish out of water.” As the film gives itself over fully to Chicken Little’s hallucinations—marking its final narrative break with reality by depicting the sky breaking apart and being replaced with thousands of alien spacecraft—Chicken Little believes that he has been exonerated, that his reports of WMD have been “verified” by the “attack” going on all around him. His father, witnessing the “destruction,” embraces him, asks him for his forgiveness, and vows always to support him from now on. Chicken Little proceeds to save the world and become a hero to everyone. As in the conclusion of Total Recall, the frame is unbroken: Chicken Little does not “wake up” or “come back” to the reality-based world, and we are thereby invited to join in his hallucinations if we so desire.
In a cannily post-postmodern postscript, the film ends with Chicken Little and his little cabal watching the Hollywood film of their exploits, in which Chicken Little is portrayed as a strong, square-jawed leader.
If there’s a more searching, more chilling portrayal of the twisted psychic landscape of our era, I haven’t seen it. Kudos to Disney for bringing the full scope of the horror to the American public, and for reviving the long-dormant art of computer-animated political allegory. While I enjoyed The March of the Penguins for its searing critique of Bush Administration fiscal policies, I have to say that Chicken Little is a considerably more inventive and accomplished film.