The early-to-mid 2000s was a difficult time for Disney Animation, one where it tried to stay relevant amongst a fiercely competitive market. Troubled productions, half-baked stories and little revenue were some of the reasons why, in my humble opinion, they made the worst mistake they have ever made in their long and storied history. Instead of trying to tell better stories, executives blamed traditional animation as their main source of box office disappointment, judging it as "old fashioned" and switching completely to CGI like all the other studios. This not only caused Disney Animation to lose its identity, but also to hit rock bottom and release what can only be called their worst animated film of all time: Chicken Little.
If Home on the Range is an excruciating journey, Chicken Little is completely unbearable. Instead of relying on their instincts, Disney tried to copy other studios' styles in a desperate attempt to win more money and audience approval. While Pixar was enjoying immense success with films like Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, Disney opted not to analyse their films and try and figure out how they were doing it, no, instead they went for the DreamWorks formula, which, at that point, was full of grating jokes and pop culture references. This sitcom-esque style was wearing out its welcome by that point, but Disney and its "brilliant" executives thought that that was the formula of success. Thus, Chicken Little never had a fighting chance to be a better film.
Loosely based on a popular folk tale, the film tells the story of an outcast chicken who thinks the sky is falling. Ridiculed and bullied for this, he tries to blend in, until what he warned of actually happens and aliens invade the town, but not with nefarious intentions. What follows is a story of acceptance, communication and understanding... Oh wait, that's what the film should have been. But instead, it's a film with grating characters, dated animation and half-baked messages that are hindered with potty humour and a very slight story.
Directed by Mark Dindal (The Emperor’s New Groove), the film feels a lot like a DreamWorks film instead of a Disney one. The CGI animation never reaches the glorious heights of any Pixar film, or even some of the DreamWorks ones. Seven years have passed and the animation looks really old and a little bit cheap. Compared to the breathtaking animation we are accustomed to from most CG films, Chicken Little is definitely at the bottom of the pile. But, let’s put aside its technical issues and focus on the story and characters. I wouldn't have mind if the animation was a little rough... if the story was great and heartfelt and the characters were relatable. But no, the story tries to pack as many jokes in as it can, and while that may amuse toddlers and little children, it will annoy and bore adults looking for something more substantial. The father-son relationship offers nothing new; because the characters are one dimensional, you never feel anything for Buck and Chicken's story - Disney have released much better stories that deal with this issue. Mulan is a perfect example of a daughter who wants her father to be proud of her, and the story is full of great messages of courage, honour and sacrifice, which make you feel for Mulan and her plight. Here, because the movie is so full of jokes and not-so-stellar humour, you don’t take anything seriously and just sit there wishing it'll be over soon. The only character who is a little bit more layered than the rest is Abby Mallard, who isn't as painful to watch as the others. But, aside from that, the movie is just a shameful example of the state Disney Animation was in at the time. They were once the king of animation and were now reduced to imitating another studio that wasn't even 10 years old at the time, just to stay alive. A depressing thing to say the least.
Like Home on the Range before it, Chicken Little is a film that you can and should skip. If anything, it serves merely as a grim reminder of what Disney Animation used to be, and another cautionary tale of what not to do when you are trying to make an animated film. It's a film that does not represent anything that Walt Disney cultivated at the studio. It's a film made by a studio that was so beaten up, that the film can only be called a cry for help. Fortunately, a ray of hope came after it, one which would help return the studio to its former glory. In the meantime, just steer clear of this one. Rating: 1/5.
This Sunday - Animated Classic #47 Review: Meet the Robinsons (2007).