At its best, what's so delightful about the titular fowl and his pals is not that they're animals but that they're teenagers, negotiating the vagaries of high school, including name-calling, dodgeball and dubious advice from fashion rags like "Teen Duck." As Abby Mallard (aka The Ugly Duckling), Joan Cusack particularly captures the lively spirit of these motley misfits. The words she uses to describe pal Chicken Little (Zach Braff) apply to the whole group: inventive, resourceful, funny.
Unfortunately, this levity is paired with a truly painful father-son relationship in which the boy desperately seeks approval from his dad. (Like in many Disney cartoons, in which the mother or father or both are dead, our hero is the only child of a widower.) It's a universal theme and thus powerful. What's different here is that one comes to believe that Chicken Little's fears about his father are true: He is ashamed of his hysteria-inciting son. As a result, his about-face in the final act rings false -- it's too little, too late. Not to mention that the moral here appears to be that you should believe your kid no matter what, even if he claims the sky is falling. Because, as it turns out, Chicken Little was right all along -- only it's not the heavens that are crumbling but pieces of an alien spacecraft in an unwieldy plot development that distracts from the charm of the central characters. Voices by Zach Braff, Garry Marshall, Joan Cusack and Steve Zahn. Directed by Mark Dindal. Written by Ron J. Friedman and Steve Bencich. Produced by Randy Fullmer. A Buena Vista release. Animated/Family. Rated G. Running time: 77 min