Trying to stay on top of my Disney history, I figured it was high time that I took a look at Chicken Little, Disney’s sometimes forgotten first foray into the world of exclusively CGI animation.
The story of a chicken who thinks that the sky is falling is a fun little movie, and honestly, I thought it was decently entertaining. The voice acting was really good, and really, the animation was fairly impressive, using all sorts of new technology for Disney animators to achieve a full length CGI feature. Clearly Disney animation had come a long way from the hand drawn cels of Snow White nearly 68 years prior.
One of the biggest knocks on the film, and the reason why it never really was considered a classic despite it’s strong performance at the box office, was the weak storyline. Honestly, I can see where the critique comes in, and what frustrated me was that the movie had a lot of good elements going for it.
For one, I actually liked the character of Chicken Little and I was enjoying the dynamic between him and his father, who Chicken Little believes doesn’t believe in him. The story of Chicken Little trying to earn his Dad’s love is apparent, but not fully fleshed out, and that I thought was a miss on the part of the studio. I understand that the whole “sky is falling” storyline needed to take center stage, but I can’t help but feel that there was a way to look at both storylines while doing both due justice. There was also a quick and forced love angle between Chicken Little and his friend Abbey Mallard that I could of done without, but hey, that’s just me.
The other odd thing, though not necessarily a bad thing, was how modern the movie seemed. When’s the last time you saw cell phones in a Disney movie? It almost seemed out of place, with so many of Disney’s films taking place “Once upon a time.”
There was also an unusual amount of cultural references and one of the most unique soundtracks you will ever find on a Disney movie. This movie clearly showed that gone were the days of the Disney musical and the dramatic, original scores in favor of the more modern pop songs and covers sung by the characters. Instead of getting “Hakuna Matata” and “A Whole New World,” we were treated to renditions of “I Will Survive” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” Like I said, it wasn’t bad, so much as very different, and for my money, I’m still a fan of the original music. I don’t know, it just feels more like Disney that way.
This movie was extremely important for Disney, particularly in its relations with Pixar. With the Disney-Pixar deal expiring after 2006′s Cars, this movie helped decide who would have the leverage in negotiations between the two companies. If it did well, Disney could argue that they could do CGI just as well as Pixar. If it bombed, Pixar could argue that Disney needed them to produce quality CGI films.
Chicken Little‘s modest success led to the two sides agreeing that they were better off with each other than without, causing Disney’s huge acquisition of Pixar in late 2006. The film also helped change the face of Disney’s creative decisions and their creative team in general.
John Lasseter, the mastermind of many of Pixar’s greatest hits, was placed as the chief creative officer for both Pixar and Walt Disney Animated Studios, a position which he still holds today. Lasseter’s influence was felt immediately for Disney, as he completely retooled an upcoming feature Meet the Robinsons, which met favorable critical reviews and is a personal favorite of mine.
The acquisition of Pixar also allowed Disney to once again return to traditionally animating feature films. Although not every movie since has been traditionally animated, such as Tangled, with Disney no longer needing to compete with Pixar for creative and economic leverage, they were allowed to return to some traditional means for making animated films, which enabled many formerly laid off employees to return to Disney and was welcome news for those who grew up watching Disney’s traditionally animated films.
Overall, Chicken Little is definitely an important film in the Disney canon for a host of reasons, and certainly has a different feel from any Disney movie that preceded it. I thought it was an enjoyable little movie that actually had me laughing here and there, but what did you think?