Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Chicken Little

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Chicken Little

Year: 2005

Source materials : Very loosely based on the Scandinavian fable of Henny Penny

Budget: $150 million

Box office: $314.4 million

Plot: In the small town of Oakey Oaks, Chicken Little rings the school bell and warns everyone to run for their lives. This sends the whole town into a frenzy. Eventually, the Head of the Fire Department calms down enough to ask him what is happening. Chicken Little says that a piece of the sky shaped like a stop sign had fallen on his head, but he is unable to find the piece. His father, Buck Cluck, assumes that this “piece of sky” was just an acorn that had fallen from the tree, making Chicken Little the laughingstock of the town.

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A year later, Chicken Little remains ostracized and unhappy. Trying to help, his friend Abby Mallard encourages Chicken Little to talk to his father, but he really only wants to make his dad proud of him.

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As a result, he joins his school’s baseball team in an attempt to recover his reputation and his father’s pride, but is benched until the ninth inning of the last game, when he miraculously makes a home run and is hailed as a hero for winning the pennant.

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Later that night, he is hit on the head by the same “piece of the sky” — only to find out that it is not really a piece of the sky, but rather a device that blends into its surroundings. He calls his friends over to help figure out what the device is.

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When one of them pushes a button on the back of the hexagon, it flies into the sky and turns out to be part of the camouflage of an invisible UFO. Chicken Little manages to ring the bell to warn everyone, but the aliens see the crowds coming and escape, accidentally leaving behind a small orange alien. The town does not believe the story of the alien invasion and thinks it is a repeat of the acorn incident, and Chicken Little is ridiculed yet again.

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He and his friends discover the orange alien, and a few minutes later a whole fleet of alien ships descends on the town and start what appears to be an invasion. As the aliens rampage throughout Oakey Oaks, vaporizing everything in their path, Little realizes he must return the alien to its parents to save the planet. First, though, he confronts his father and regains his trust. In the invasion, Buck defends Little from the aliens until they are vaporized.

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It is then discovered that the aliens were not vaporizing people, but the ray guns teleported them aboard the UFO. The invasion was a misunderstanding, as the two aliens were looking for their lost child and attacked only out of concern. Little returns the child, and the aliens return everything to normal; as they depart they note a loose tile on their ship. Everyone is grateful for Chicken Little’s efforts to save the town.

8wetJbZVXQrdfU4KaQBEvTSNkRABackground: In September 2001, director Mark Dindal developed the idea for Chicken Little, with its title character envisioned as an overreacting, doom and gloomy female chicken, that went to summer camp to build confidence so she wouldn’t overreact, as well as repair her relationship with her father.

 

In January 2003, when David Stainton became Disney’s new president of Walt Disney Feature Animation, he decided the story needed a different approach, and told the director the script had to be revised, and during the next three months, it was rewritten into a tale of a boy, trying to save his town from space aliens.

 

Changes from the Source Material: Other than the aliens? In most versions of the fable it’s an acorn that falls on Chicken Little, and he and his friends end up being eaten by a fox.

Animation: The animation team took inspiration for its staging, coloring, and theatrical lighting from Mary Blair’s background designs featured in Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. The Maya software used included a software program called “Shelf Control.” It provided an outline of the characters which could be viewed on a screen and then specific oarts could be controlled. The characters were constructed using geometric polygons. 1

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Supervising animator Jason Ryan adapted Braff’s facial features during recording sessions The animators would utilize the software program “Chicken Wire”, where digital wire forms were manipulated. Finally, they constructed XGen, a computer software program for texturing the hair, cloth, feathers, and leaves.

Music: John Debney wrote the score, and film features modern pop songs. Debney has composed scores for many films including: The Passion of the Christ, Bruce Almighty, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Elf, Sin City, Liar Liar, Spy Kids, The Scorpion King, The Princess Diaries and Predators.

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Voice Cast:

Zach Braff as Chicken Little. He 8pit best known for his role as J. D. on Scrubs. He wrote, directed, and starred in the film Garden State, also winning the Grammy Award for Best Soundtrack Album. Joan Cusack returns as Abigail “Abby” Mallard.

Dan Molina as Fish Out of Water. He is an American film editor, sound editor, and voice actor who is best known for his work on various animated films such as The Land Before Time, Cats Don’t Dance, and An American Tail. Steve Zahn as Runt of the Litter. He is known for the films Reality Bites, That Thing You Do!, Out of Sight, Happy Texas, Riding in Cars with Boys, Shattered Glass, Sahara, Rescue Dawn, the first three Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies, Dallas Buyers Club, and War for the Planet of the Apes. He has done voice acting in Escape from Planet Earth, and The Good Dinosaur.

Garry Marshall 2 as Buck “Ace” Cluck. He was a film director, film producer, screenwriter and actor, best known for creating Happy Days and its various spin-offs, developing Neil Simon’s 1965 play The Odd Couple for television, and directing Pretty Woman, Beaches, Runaway Bride, Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Mother’s Day, The Princess Diaries, and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. Amy Sedaris as Foxy Loxy. She is best known for playing Jerri Blank in the Comedy Central series Strangers with Candy. She appeared in Elf, School of Rock, Maid in Manhattan, Bewitched, Snow Angels, Full Grown Men, Old Dogs, and Shrek the Third. She voices the role of Princess Carolyn on the Netflix original show BoJack Horseman, the Bandit Princess in Adventure Time, and she plays Mimi Kanasis on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Mark Walton as Goosey Loosey. He was a storyboard artist on Home on the Range, Bolt, and Meet the Robinsons. He was the voice for Rhino the hamster in Bolt. Don Knotts 3 as Turkey Lurkey. He was best known as Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, for which he earned five Emmy Awards. He is also known fir playing Henry Limpet in The Incredible Mr. Limpet and Ralph Furley on the TV sit-com Three’s Company. Other films include The Apple Dumpling Gang and its sequel, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, The Prize Fighter, The Private Eyes, Gus, No Deposit, No Return, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, Hot Lead and Cold Feet, and Pleasantville.

Fred Willard as Melvin. He is known for his roles in This Is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration, Mascots, and the Anchorman films. He received three Emmy nominations for his recurring role on Everybody Loves Raymond and an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his role on Modern Family. He will also later appear in WALL-E. Catherine O’Hara as Tina. She started on the sketch show SCTV. O’Hara has appeared in several films such as Beetlejuice, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration, Home Alone, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Dick Tracy, The Paper, Wyatt Earp, Tall Tale, Home Fries, Surviving Christmas, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, 4 Penelope, Killers, and A.C.O.D. She has leant her voice to The Nightmare Before Christmas, Frankenweenie, Pippi Longstocking, Bartok the Magnificent, Over the Hedge, Monster House, Brother Bear 2, Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses, Where the Wild Things Are, A Monster in Paris, and When Marnie Was There.

Patrick Stewart as Mr. Woolensworth. He is best known for playing Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the Star Trek franchise and Professor Charles Xaiver in theX-Menfilms. Other roles include I, Claudius, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Excalibur, Dune, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Jeffery, The Lion in Winter, Moby Dick, Blunt Talk and A Christmas Carol. He played King Claudius in Hamlet alongside David Tennant, winning the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actor. He has leant his voice to The Prince of Egypt, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, The Pagemaster, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, The Emoji Movie, Animal Farm, The Simpsons, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Family Guy, and plays a recurring role as CIA Deputy Director Avery Bullock on American Dad!. Adam West 5 as Ace. He is best known for playing the title role in the television series Batman. He also appeared in the films The Marriage of a Young Stockbrocker, The Curse of the Moon Child, The Specialist, Hooper, The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood, One Dark Night, and Young Lady Chatterley II. West also appeared in such television films as The Eyes of Charles Sand, Poor Devil, Nevada Smith, For the Love of It, and I Take These Men. His voice-over work on includes appearances on The Simpsons, Futurama, Rugrats, Histeria!, Kim Possible, Fairly Oddparents, and Johnny Bravo. He was also known for playing Mayor Adam West on Family Guy.

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Harry Shearer as Dog Announcer. He was a cast member on Saturday Night Live. He co-created, co-wrote and co-starred in the film This Is Spinal Tap. He joined the cast of the animated sitcom The Simpsons. 6 He has appeared in films including A Mighty Wind and The Truman Show.

Wallace Shawn returns as Principal Fetchit, Patrick Warburton returns as an Alien Cop. Director Mark Dindal plays Morkubine Porcupine.

Critical Reception: On the syndicated television program Ebert & Roeper, critics Richard Roeper and Roger Ebert gave the film “Two Thumbs Down” with the former saying “I don’t care whether the film is 2-D, 3-D, CGI, or hand-drawn, it all goes back to the story.”

In his print review featured in the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert stated the problem was the story, and wrote “As a general rule, if a movie is not about baseball or space aliens, and you have to use them, anyway, you should have started with a better premise.” Ebert concluded his review with “The movie did make me smile. It didn’t make me laugh, and it didn’t involve my emotions, or the higher regions of my intellect, for that matter. It’s a perfectly acceptable feature cartoon for kids up to a certain age, but it doesn’t have the universal appeal of some of the best recent animation.”

Legacy: DisneyToon Studios originally planned to make a direct-to-video sequel to Chicken Little, tentatively titled Chicken Little 2: The Ugly Duckling Story. When John Lasseter became Walt Disney Animation Studios’ new chief creative officer, he spared us, by calling for all sequels and future sequels that DisneyToon had planned to be cancelled.

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Video Games: Chicken Little hatched two video games.

  • Chicken Little, is an action-adventure video game released for Xbox, PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube and Game Boy Advance
  • Disney’s Chicken Little: Ace in Action, is a multi-platform video game, for the Wii, Nintendo DS, Xbox, and PlayStation 2.
  • Chicken Little appears as a summon in the video game Kingdom Hearts II.

My take:  Oh boy where to begin. They really want the jokes to land. In the opening a round water tower rolls through town like Raiders of the Lost Ark then show the town watching the very film. Like get it? GET IT? (And how exactly does that work? How are these sentient animals existing in the same universe as Harrison Ford?) They do the same thing with King Kong. When a character says that they “will survive” the upcoming climax, you can almost hear the piano glissande before it happens.

I could care less about the relationship between Chicken Little and his dad, because his dad is kind of a dick. I feel the whole movie was trying to be meta in the worst Dreamworks-like way

Next Week: On Thursday, we’re going to jump out of canon (sort of) to talk about The Wild. After that, we’re headed for our first trip to to Radiator Springs.