Chicken Little

Chicken Little (2005)

Directed by Mark Dindal

Synopsis

Chicken Little, a diminutive chicken in the town of Oakey Oaks, begins to ring the town bell, screaming for everyone to flee for their lives.  After a significant number of injuries and property damage is caused by the ensuing panic, Chicken Little calms down enough to tell everyone that the “sky” was falling and had hit him on the head.  His father, Buck, convinces everyone that it had only been an acorn, making Chicken Little a pariah among the townsfolk (there’s even a movie made about it).

A year later, Chicken Little’s only friends are other outcasts like him, including the Ugly Duckling, a pig named Runt of the Litter, and a literal Fish Out of Water (he wears a diving helmet).  He has a terrible relationship with his father, and gets blamed for everything that goes wrong.  Despite his size and general lack of physical aptitude, he decides to join the school baseball team to impress his dad (a former high school baseball star).  He ends up as a benchwarmer who only sees action during the championship game due to injury.  Despite going against his coach’s instructions, and initially seeming to have cost the team the game, Chicken Little ultimately scores the winning run.  The town finally cheers for him, and it seems that he’s earned his father’s respect.

And then the aliens show up.

Chicken Little gets hit by another piece of “sky”, which turns out to be a camouflage panel that fell off a spaceship.  While playing around with it, Fish Out of Water gets taken up to the ship, and Chicken Little and the others mount a rescue attempt.  They get Fish out, but are chased by mechanical, tentacled creatures and barely escape.  Unbeknownst to them, a small furry creature also tags along as they leave.  At his friends’ urging, Chicken Little rings the bell again to warn the town about the aliens.  They have no evidence, however, and Little becomes a laughingstock once more.

As he’s moping around, Chicken Little discovers the furry creature.  They realize that it is the child of the aliens, just as an entire fleet of ships show up looking for it.  The aliens attack the town, until Chicken Little and his father manage to climb to the top of City Hall and return the child to its parents.  Once they realize that it was just a misunderstanding, the aliens put the town back how it was, and Chicken Little’s story gets turned into a Hollywood action movie.

Production Notes

Chicken Little was originally imagined as a much different movie.  Director Mark Dindel came up with the idea in 2001, but the initial concept was about a female chicken fighting against an evil camp counselor at a summer camp.  Michael Eisner suggested making the character a boy, because “If you’re a boy and you’re short, you get picked on.”

Peter Schneider, the long-time president of Disney’s animation division who’d overseen the Renaissance, had been promoted out of the position in 1999, and it had become a bit of a revolving door in the intervening years.  David Stainton came in as president in 2003, and he ordered major changes to the Chicken Little concept before production began.  This included adding the entire alien plot.  A whole lot of partially-animated scenes ended up getting cut, much more than in a typical animated film.

As this was to be Disney’s first in-house CG film, the animators needed a crash course in 3D animation.  About half of Disney’s hand-drawn crews ended up going through an 18-month training program with the Industrial Light & Magic special effects company.  Unfortunately, that meant that the other animators were expendable.  Schneider ended up closing the Florida branch studio that had produced Mulan and Lilo & Stitch.

At the time of the movie’s release, Disney was involved in a contentious contract negotiation with Pixar, which was then still an independent company.  If the movie bombed, like most of the other recent Disney movies, Pixar would have significant leverage in the negotiations, as it would be seen as proof that Disney couldn’t do CG animation.  Fortunately for Disney’s business side, Chicken Little actually turned out to be a hit.  It was their first movie to debut at #1 since Dinosaur, and would go on to gross $135 million at the domestic box office and over $300 million worldwide.  It wasn’t well received by critics, however, who gave it worse reviews than Home on the Range had gotten, especially singling out the movie’s storyline.

Review

You know how in my Home on the Range review I said that I didn’t see how Chicken Little could be worse than it?  Well, it’s not worse, per se, but it’s definitely equally as bad.  Just a different kind of bad.

With Home on the Range, my main issues with the film were in the execution.  The voice work, the character designs, etc.  Sure, there were some script issues, but the central premise was actually a decent one.  Chicken Little, on the other hand, takes the classic fable and says “What if there were aliens?”

If you’re so out of ideas that you have to throw in an alien invasion halfway through an otherwise unrelated plot, your movie has problems right out of the gate.  It’s the sort of twist a soap opera would pull for ratings (something I remember actually being mocked rather directly in Bolt).  It really does feel like they took two very different ideas, and welded them together at the 40 minute mark with barely any duct tape to hold the two disparate plots together.

We’re just here to put this movie out of its misery

It doesn’t help matters that this might be one of the meanest movies I’ve seen while doing this blog.  Not only is Chicken Little mocked and abused constantly by his peers, but he also seems to be deliberately targeted by the adults as well.  Even his father doesn’t seem to really want to have anything to do with him.  He gets blamed for literally everything bad that happens around him, even the things that are clearly not his fault at all.  And I get the sense that the movie feels that this abuse is justified, that it’s Chicken Little who has to redeem himself over the course of the movie.  Sure, there’s definitely a plot thread of his dad having to learn how to actually be a father to him. but it feels like the film is trying to suggest that they’re both equally to blame for their bad relationship, with Chicken Little constantly being chided to drop everything and talk to his dad.

I WILL give the movie a couple points for making the school jock a girl, and never having any sort of “she’s good for a girl” comments.  But I’ll take them all right back for the ending, in which she gets turned into a stereotypical southern belle by the aliens – something that the final scene implies is permanent.  And I’ll take more points for the constant fat jokes about Runt of the Litter.  And the very obvious attempts to ape Shrek’s pop culture references (the spliced-in shot from Raiders of the Lost Ark is especially egregious).  It’s like this movie was calculated to annoy me.

Now, I do want to give Chicken Little some credit for the actual animation.  While it’s definitely showing its age, and has some wonky character designs, it looks a lot better than it has any right to.  Especially considering that it was Disney’s first in-house computer animated movie.  I watched a LOT of movies with my young nieces during the lockdown, and there are many early 2010s movies that have aged worse in the animation department than this one has.   

Verdict

Unfortunately, that’s the only good thing I have to say about Chicken Little.  It’s just a stupendously wrong-headed movie from top to bottom.  It plays like a movie that was cobbled together by a committee out of multiple contradictory ideas – which, to be fair, it kinda was.  It also happens to be one of the final movies for this project that I hadn’t previously seen, so I know that they get a lot better from here.  That’s a good thing, as one more like this might have had me rage-quitting.

Animation: B+ (More serviceable than outstanding, but serviceable is a lot better than I’d expected from the first CG Disney movie)

Main Characters: C (I’m not annoyed at Chicken Little himself.  I actually feel sorry for the guy.  Though the script doesn’t do him any favors)

Supporting Characters: F (I don’t recall ever giving an F before.  THAT’s how much I hated most of the rest of the cast)

Villains: D (It’s telling that I barely mentioned the aliens in my review, and had like two lines talking about Chicken Little’s bully)

Music: C (I don’t think there were any original songs that I noticed, and using “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” for an alien invasion is a little on-the-nose)

Overall: D+

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