The classic children’s story Chicken Little, also known as Chicken Licken, is one that usually has an unhappy ending for the majority of the characters (Chicken Licken, Henny Penny, Drakey Lakey, Cocky Locky, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey and Turkey Lurkey) bar the fox (Foxy Loxy) so I was interested to see if Disney would take it to a happy conclusion in their computer-animated 2005 offering, or graft on one of the happy endings they are well-known for.
Well before the computer-animated Chicken Little of 2005, Disney released an animated version of it in 1943. This was apparently one of a set of short films that Disney released at the request of the US Government during the Second World War; another of these involved Donald Duck encouraging people to pay income tax. Chicken Little of 1943 is set in farmyard with Foxy Loxy orchestrating the actions, reactions and overreactions of the characters, as opposed to taking advantage of a situation in the usual turn of events. Foxy Loxy was aided in this by a psychology book (quoting such gems as “To influence the masses, aim first at the least intelligent”), and a piece of an Astrologist’s sign with a star on it for the piece of sky.
It is a classic short cartoon which is still amusing today, in part for some of the language, Chicken Little is described as a “playboy and yoyo champ”. What I did like about this version is that it did not shy away from the almost inevitable ending, even seeming to surprise the narrator, who reassures the audience that everything will be fine until a poultry graveyard is shown. Seen in context, this serves to drive home the propaganda message.
The 2005 Chicken Little also has a context for Disney. Disney was in partnership with Pixar to release their computer-animated films and Chicken Little was seen as a last attempt by Disney to produce their own computer-animation instead of distributing Pixar films. The film did moderately well at the box office but critics were quick to say that Disney spent too much on showcasing the computer animation, and not enough on storyline development.
From the outset I very much doubted that there would be anything other than a happy ending for the latest incarnation of Chicken Little. Chicken Little (voiced by Zach Braff of Scrubs fame) lives with his widowed father, Buck Cluck, who he is trying to prove himself to after embarrassing him at the beginning of the movie with his claim that the sky is falling in.
Chicken Little goes to a typical American school where he is one of the geeks, with the Ugly Duckling (Abbey Mallard), Fish out of Water and the Runt of the Litter, who are bullied by Foxy Loxy, interestingly a female fox with braces, and Goosey Loosey, her sidekick.
Don Knotts has a small but memorable part as Mayor Turkey Lurkey and Patrick Stewart has a cameo as a sheep teacher, Mr Woolensworth.
In an attempt to gain his father’s esteem, Chicken Little joins the baseball team, although he can hardly lift the bat. By the halfway point of the movie he has hit a home run, won his team a title they haven’t held in many years, and won his father’s admiration. This did leave me wondering where the movie had to go, when another piece of sky falls on him. Too scared to tell his father again he shows his friends the piece of sky, which turns out to be a cloaking panel from a space ship. When they realise that there are aliens parked on the ball park field they raise the alarm, only for it to disappear, but not before the most engaging character of the film has followed our heroes off the ship: Kirby, a furry flame-shaped alien with three eyes and stripey legs.
The aliens come back launching what seems like a full scale invasion, blasting many of the main characters, including Foxy Loxy. Chicken Little knows that they have come back for Kirby and has to get his father to believe him before, predictably, getting him to help save the town.
All in all, while there are a few laughs and a nice twist on the Chicken Licken story, the movie is unlikely to become a classic due to a lack of real engagement with the characters.