Disney is the world’s most famous animation studio, and has created some of history’s most beloved animated classics. But not everything the studio has made receives that same magic touch. In fact, the early 2000s saw Disney in a very notable decline with the quality of their animated features, as they released one forgettable flick after another (with Lilo & Stitch being the sole exception during this epidemic of mediocrity). However, even the majority of Disney’s most throwaway animated films still have some redeeming attributes, with very few of their animated output falling under the category of “downright terrible.” But that’s a pretty fitting way to describe Disney’s 2005 flick, Chicken Little, which few would argue is anything more than the worst of Disney’s animated features (with the possible exception of some of the straight-to-video sequels that tainted the favorites of many a 90s kid).
Boy, where do I even begin with this one? Chicken Little tells the story of, well, Chicken Little; a young chicken in a small town filled with talking animals. Think Zootopia, but without the great characters, intriguing story, top-notch animation, subtext, and anything else good.
Chicken Little has become the town fool, after he mistakenly thought the sky was falling, which sent the entire town into a panic, and humiliated Chicken Little’s father Buck in the process, thus straining the father-son relationship between them. Chicken Little then spends the next year trying to redeem his family name, and decides to do this by…playing baseball.
Why baseball, exactly? I’m not entirely sure. I’m guessing the filmmakers didn’t have enough to work with storywise, so they threw an excessive amount of the sport into the early parts of the movie to fill time.
Anyway, Chicken Little manages to succeed in his baseball endeavors (though the scene depicts his victory as more of sheer luck, as opposed to his abilities and determination saving the day, so there’s a mixed message in a kids’ movie right there). He then becomes something of a hero, and for the first time in ages, his father isn’t ashamed of him.
The movie may have been wise to end things right there, but it slogs on. As it turns out, the sky really is falling… Kind of/sort of… As it happens, alien spacecrafts are hovering above the town, and the bottom of their ships camouflage with the environment, which in this instance happens to be the sky. After a chunk of an alien spacecraft hits Chicken Little on the head, he and his friends Abby Mallard (AKA The “Ugly Duckling”), Runt of the Litter (a rotund pig with comically short limbs) and Fish-Out-of-Water (self-explanatory) go to investigate, and end up having to save the town from a potential alien invasion.
I’m not sure if it’s the setup of an entire town bullying a kid, or the fact that the movie uses sports as padding and ends up throwing aliens into the mix, but this might very well be the least “Disney” movie of any Disney movie. It’s probably a bit of all that, as well as how the movie shoehorns popular music and an obnoxious, sarcastic tone throughout the film (one must remember that Shrek had popularized the idea of cynicism in animation at the time – even if Shrek itself had some earnestness in its story – and apparently only Pixar was wise enough not to conform).
Most of the characters are either entirely forgettable or downright unlikable. Chicken Little and his friends are a cast of misfits, but you can’t help but feel the film overly portrays their negative aspects for the sake of comedy (I use that word loosely here) at the expense of fleshing them out and winning the audience over to them. Meanwhile, Buck is basically a jerk who doesn’t try to help his son out or understand him emotionally (though in the movie’s defense, it at least makes a point that he needs to shape up and clean up his act). And the rest of the townsfolk are pretty much defined by how much they bully Chicken Little. Not exactly the most winning cast Disney has produced.
To make things worse, the movie just isn’t pleasing to look at. This was Disney’s first CG animated film (a tidbit I’m sure the studio would like to forget), as Pixar is a separate studio and Disney’s earlier and similarly forgettable “Dinosaur” placed CG characters into live-action environments. Even with the knowledge of this being Disney’s first foray into an all-CG movie, it’s still disappointing to look at. The animation quality might be passable for a made-for-TV movie at the time, but this was a theatrically released film by Disney.
The textures of the film’s environments, as well as the characters’ fur, feathers and scales just look so bland, and the colors are incredibly dull. Not to mention the character designs are both generic and unappealing. If you thought that maybe Disney, when making Chicken Little, simply thought making a movie with CG animation was enough to make it both good and a success, you may be on to something.
Chicken Little was one the last Disney films produced under the Michael Eisner era, and it almost personifies everything that went wrong during that era for the studio. It reeks of being little more than a cash-in, with the studio thinking that the technology was the secret behind Pixar and Dreamworks’ success, and yet it didn’t even bother to create state-of-the-art animation with said technology. It tried its damnedest to emulate the sarcastic animated features of the time, and even managed to stumble in doing that.
Chicken Little is simply an unenjoyable movie, and served as a crescendo to everything Disney was doing wrong at the time. Thankfully Disney has picked itself up (and then some) in the decade that has followed. But Disney’s slump during the early 2000s left an unfortunate mark on the Disney legacy, with Chicken Little being an easy candidate as the nadir of the studio’s long history.