Ranking the Disney Canon – 49: Chicken Little

Who are we talking about?” – Chicken Little

Chicken Little was released in 2005, and was the first fully computer animated feature created and produced by the Disney Studio, the start of a new era. With a break-up with Pixar seemingly certain, this was the true first look at a post Pixar Disney. Of course, history tells us a different story, but in looking at Chicken Little, we look into the mindset Disney Animation had when they believed they were going to be the only Animation division in the studio once again.

The story is, of course, based on the fable of Chicken Little, set instead in modern-day suburbia. The film begins with Chicken Little causing a panic in the town of Oaky Oaks when he believes the sky is falling. Chicken Little is unable to prove this claim, and is ridiculed by the town, all the while embarrassing his father, Buck Cluck. One year later, Chicken Little is still the butt of all the jokes, only finding solace in his friends Abby Mallard, an Ugly Duckling, Runt of the Litter, a rather large Pig, and Fish Out of Water, a….well…Fish Out of Water. After a particularly embarrassing incident at the hands of school bully Foxy Loxy, Chicken Little decides to find redemption by joining and eventually becoming the hero of the Baseball team. In his greatest moment, the “sky” falls again, and Chicken Little and his friends find that there may be an alien invasion afoot.

STRENGTHS

Yes, this film actually has some strengths to it! See, even the bad Disney films have some good moments!

This film has some genuinely funny moments, a majority of which coming from Fish Out of Water, proving once again that the silent character is sometimes the best character. The pantomimes by Fish are mostly well done, and I wish he had more screen-time.

Another source of humor comes from the scattered references to other films throughout the movie, including an awesome parody of Hollywood adaptions at the end of the film (Which stars Adam West!)

Though it could be better, I enjoy the relationship between Chicken Little and his father. They have some great scenes together, and is really the only satisfying relationship in the film. One scene in particular that works very well is right after the baseball victory, which show the strength of their relationship, and makes the reconnection at the end of the film much more believable. (Though, of course, they have to include the “Hey, let’s only reference his mother being gone in this one scene, just for emotional effect” technique, which has absolutely no bearing on anything else in the film)

Finally, while I think the execution of the idea is weak, the concept of a modern-day take on Chicken Little and the techniques they use to make it work are clever. The film has flashes where the concept lives up to its potential, such as both scenes involving the fallen sky.

WEAKNESSES

I feel like this film doesn’t know what it wants to be, and thus attempts to do too much within its 81 minute runtime. Obviously, this is trying to be a modern-day take on Chicken Little, which is fine. But then it tries to be a High School Comedy, complete with the School Bully and mistakes made by our hero. OK. Then it takes a 10 minutes to become a sports movie. And after all that, it completes the circle in becoming an Alien Invasion movie. And the film’s opening and ending suggest that there is a desire to make a parody of Disney, Hollywood, and adaptations.

While it would be possible to combine these elements into a fresh and funny comedy, it would still need to commit to one part of it to make it work. Chicken Little feels too disjointed and unfocused, the film never exactly sure what it wants to be. The Chicken Little plot starts the film off strong, but quickly disappears for twenty minutes. The school focus is dropped after 10 minutes, as is the Baseball parts. These more like asides than actual, necessary parts of the story. Even the alien invasion, the part that most connects to the Chicken Little Story, feels like it is engulfed by these other segments, and barely gets enough time to fully form and mesh.

Sometimes, It feels like I’m watching three different films, especially when the Baseball Storyline ends with Chicken Little’s triumph. This early victory undercuts Chicken Little’s later actions, since we’ve already seen a connection between him and his father. I understand the film heavily implies that this isn’t the kind of connection they need (this film is not subtle about anything. Much more telling than showing), it still satisfies to the point that the climax doesn’t feel as climatic.

This hodgepodge style really hurts in the character development department, more so with the potential antagonists and obstacles that would hinder Chicken Little’s growth. Foxy Loxy and the school’s teachers and coaches, if they had more of a presence throughout the film as those to belittle Chicken Little, could be much more entertaining and fulfilling characters while also contributing conflict. Instead, they disappear after the first 20 minutes, and have no bearing on any other section of the film.

I believe this problem could be solved if the film were to get rid of the “One Year Later” idea. Maybe this is only the screenwriter in me talking, but if the film were to take place only after the first “Sky Falling” incident, chronicling Chicken Little’s fall and redemption all in one swoop, this would enhance the conflict, and improve the story to make it feel like one coherent, focused film. This would also help in creating conflict between Chicken Little and his friends. Having his friends only go so far in believing his story would help the arc of Chicken Little. Finally, the alien presence in the movie could have greatly enhanced, which would also enhance that story line.

It would also help with another issue, which is that the reaction that the town folk have being overly extreme. Once his claim that the sky is falling is discovered to be a lie, they instantly call him crazy and shun him FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR, during which a book, a website, a set of commemorative spoons and plates, and a movie is made about the incident. I’m all for suspension of disbelief, but this is absurd, and it becomes really hard to take the movie seriously, even as a comedy. If this had been built up for most of the movie, the increasing anger would make sense, and actually have more payoff.

Maybe what I’m trying to say is that everything in this movie is built up too quickly and comes out of nowhere, and this happens for the jokes too. This movie attempts the old Plant and Payoff Routine without much planting. As fun as Fish’s recreation of King Kong is, it has no build up or reason to be a joke. This also is the only time Fish makes a film related joke in entire movie. Had this been built up, maybe by having Fish be a film fantatic, and if this joke would have been running, it would have made more sense and have been funnier, and have even made more jokes.

This also happens when Runt is inspired to face the aliens after Chicken Little references the song I Will Survive, when there was only one other reference in the entire film to him liking music. It comes out of nowhere. One more example: The potential Romance between Chicken Little and Abby has exactly 1 line dedicated to it in the first hour, and then suddenly Chicken Little kisses Abby with no other real bonding in between.

(Also, the film’s comeuppance for Foxy Loxy, where she is transformed from Tomboy to Girly Girl, not only comes out of nowhere, especially since we saw Foxy completely fine not five minutes before, but is also just weird, and not funny. And the fact that she ends up in a relationship with Runt? Just wrong.)

Finally, I feel the film, especially its soundtrack, is too contemporary. I’m not opposed to having contemporary references in Disney films. In fact, Pinocchio, Lilo and Stitch, and Aladdin are able to pull this off with excellent results. However, I feel it is a bit overboard when seems like every other sequence has a popular, contemporary song attached to it. The Spice Girls, R.E.M, Barenaked Ladies, and even Queen and Elton John have songs appear during the film. The film is littered with other references to popular culture. This overload hurts the ability of the film to be timeless, and also really is distracting at some points.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

As much as I want the best scene to actually be from the main plot, the parody with Adam West at the end is truly the film’s best part. Almost makes me wish that were the actual film instead of the one we got.

Best Song? Certainly “We Are the Champions”

CLOSING COMMENTS

Safe to say, I’m glad Pixar is still a major part of Disney’s animated production. Though the follow-up to this film is much better (We’ll get to that later in the countdown), if Chicken Little is any indication, Disney Animation would have been taking a large step backwards from its history. Though the film has flashes of potential, it feels too rushed and unconnected to be anything other a mediocre Disney film.

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2 thoughts on “Ranking the Disney Canon – 49: Chicken Little

  1. After seeing this movie, it clearly wasn’t one of my favorite Disney films. One minute it’s a high school drama then it’s one of those underdog sports film and then aliens… Which is it going to be? Not to go as far as to say it was a bad movie, but I honestly felt that after one sitting I would rather have seen the “fake” movie featured in the film. For at least some of the good comedy and such that this film may offer, there are in fact so many problems that simply can’t be ignored from the animation, the portrayals of a majority of the characters, and don’t even get me started on the film’s pacing. Well, at least Disney would make a rather smooth recovery following this film and Chicken Little in general was at least lucky enough to be featured in at least “one” Kingdom Hearts game (Even as just a summon character).

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