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— by Larry Carroll

Plopped down on a Forrest Gump-like park bench on a blindingly white soundstage, the latest in a long line of spokespeople for Generation Y looked into the future and confronted it with the signature tools of his trade: unceasing sarcasm, an abundance of charm and the crooked smile of a kid who just robbed the cookie jar.

Watch Zach Braff open up about crazy women, crappy singing and the enduring appeal of dorks, on MTV Overdrive.

Those who think they know the future of Disney animation, or that of Zach Braff, know little.

"It's a period piece," he joked while describing "Chicken Little," the Disney film that will reinvent Braff as a small, dorky, animated chicken when it's released on November 4. "No, it's a really funny telling of the story of Chicken Little, who is a little chicken who thought the sky was falling and caused pandemonium in his town."

Braff knows pandemonium, having created it himself four years ago when, at 26, he landed the job of Dr. John "J.D." Dorian, the central character on the NBC comedy "Scrubs." An immediate hit, the irreverent hospital show made audiences aware of the New Jersey-born actor blessed with the everyman appeal of Tom Hanks and the deadpan wit of Chevy Chase. Much like the fellow inhabitants of Chicken Little's Oakey Oaks, however, many in Hollywood continued to doubt that Braff could evolve into a serious big-screen threat.

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"Honored" is how the actor summed up his feelings of being cast as fabledom's most famous fibber. "I love to play the nerdy, dorky chicken. If anybody else has fowl roles — F-O-W-L — that are nerdy and dorky, I'm the man."

That nerd/dork persona paid off for Braff last year, when his independent film "Garden State" turned all those people wondering why that guy from "Scrubs" was directing a movie into people wondering when that guy from "Scrubs" was going to direct his next movie.

"It changed my career," Braff said of "State," a quirky, semiautobiographical film that domestically grossed nearly 10 times its budget. "It was a really great break for me, because I just continue to be able to do what I love to do, which is to act and direct things. So the best thing about it is that it's brought so many opportunities."

Opportunities including "Little," which hopes to broaden the appeal of animated family films by embracing the jaded, ironic, pop-culture-savvy demographic that has turned "Garden State" into its "Easy Rider." Braff insists he chose "Little" because it allowed him to tap into that irreverent, rebellious tone that rings true from mall food courts to high school cafeterias nationwide.

"Chicken Little" Photos

"One thing that was cool about making this movie, unlike the way other animated films are made, was that we were able to improv a lot," Braff said. "We really got to put in our own humor as well — Mark [Dindal], the director, was really into that."

As a result, Braff's timid little chicken reacts to calamity by facetiously exclaiming, "Oh, snap!" After Chicken Little mistakenly freaks out the whole town, the family computer offers its version of AOL's greeting: "You've got hate mail!" Other gags revolve around Barbra Streisand, a politician who can't speak without cue cards and a series of X-rated tapes called "Chickens Gone Wild." Good luck finding any of that in "Dumbo."

"This is a real funny, tongue-in-cheek version of the story [of someone who's] gotten infamous essentially for being the boy who cried wolf," Braff said. "They've made a movie out of it, and a book on tape, and commemorative plates, and he's just famous for being this awful, crazy chicken."

The age-old fairy-tale concept also inspired many jokes at the expense of questionably talented fifteen-minute celebrities. "It has a really smart, irreverent look at celebrities and making fun of people who get famous for really odd things," Braff said. "Like Kato Kaelin or someone like that. People my age will find a lot of things in it besides the really cool animation. There's a lot of stuff kids aren't going to get. [It's] like an episode of 'The Simpsons' — you can watch it and get it on a totally different level than a 10-year-old."

 Watch the "Chicken Little" trailer

If the nature of the humor rings true for Braff's fans, so too should the friends of Chicken Little, a collection of outcasts that includes the Ugly Duckling (Joan Cusack), the Runt of the Litter (Steve Zahn) and their literal-named silent partner Fish Out of Water. "When they go to gym class and they're playing dodgeball," Braff said, "the teacher says, 'It's gonna be popular kids versus dorks.' "

Much like his animated friends, Braff always knew exactly where he stood on his school's social ladder. "I was not the all-star jock kid by any stretch," he said. "I remember [kids picking] for kickball and doing anything I could to not be towards the end."

Audiences should also find resonance in the plucky young chicken's constant battle to get his father, Buck (Garry Marshall), to sit down and have a conversation with him. By the time Buck begins listening to his son's declarations that the sky is falling, going to great lengths to overcompensate for the absent father he's always been, you realize that this is a revolutionary movie for Disney for reasons other than being its most high-profile non-Pixar CGI flick yet.

Then, of course, there's the music, which any Braff fan knows the scruffy-haired star takes very seriously. After mixing Coldplay, Remy Zero and his beloved Shins on the "Garden State" soundtrack, Braff was allowed to revisit a few classics for "Little." And this time, he got to sing them.

"He finally, finally, finally saves the day and wins the baseball game, and it's his only moment of being a winner for a second in his life, so he sings 'We Are the Champions' by Queen," Braff reported like a proud papa. "And, um, not very well, because he's a little chicken with a bad voice."

Braff said that it wasn't easy recording the track (and, in the closing credits, Elton John and Kiki Dee's duet "Don't Go Breaking My Heart") for several minutes at a time in Chicken Little's high-pitch voice. "It was hard, because I have to sing badly. I can actually sing a little bit, not well but decently, and they wanted me to sing it really badly — so bad that car alarms in the town go off."

To Zach Braff's die-hard fans, however, it will no doubt be music to their ears.

Check out everything we've got on "Chicken Little"

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