The year: 2005. The place: I don’t know, probably Anaheim or somewhere. The Walt Disney company had closed the book on traditional animation, declaring computer animation to be the way of the future. That’s what people want, they said, and we shall give it to them. Negotiations with Pixar were hinging on this movie. If it was a hit, Disney could say “We don’t need you, Pixar, be off with you.” If it failed, Pixar could say “You guys suck at this, now give us some more money.” In the end, the film was a modest success. Better than Disney had been doing, but worse than Pixar had. Of course, Disney didn’t have to share the money, so they made more of a profit… In the end, Disney kept making their own CGI films, but bought Pixar outright so they could continue to get a cut of their profit, and Pixar was happy to, because they could stay fully funded and by left alone artistically.
Hm. Artistically, artistically… Oh yes! I almost forgot! I was so distracted by the financial dealings that were this movie’s entire reason for being that I neglected to bring up that this is ONE OF THE WORST DAMN MOVIES I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE! It’s incompetent garbage! The animation is so inept and ugly it makes Home on the Range look like Tarzan! The actors are so ill-suited and ill-directed it makes Dinosaur look like Lilo and Stitch! The plot and story are so badly thought out and executed it makes the Aristocats look like Beauty and th - Wait, let’s not go nuts. But it makes it look at least like Oliver and Company or something. Something pretty okay? Anyway, this movie was horrible. I’m annoyed and so are you, so fry up an omelette and let’s yell at Chicken Little.
Look, gentle readers. To define bad movies is as difficult as to define good ones. Some bad movies I genuinely like. These usually have something going for them, like the giddy all-out delights of “Batman and Robin” and “Street Fighter”, the uncompromising earnestness “From Justin to Kelly”, or the sheer perplexingness of “A Talking Cat?!” and “Creating Rem Lezar”. But there’s a dark side, too. Movies that are so inept, so nasty, so cruel to the performers that watching them is legitimately unpleasant. “Heartbeeps”, for instance, or “Slapstick of Another Kind”. These movies aren’t necessarily any fun to watch, though there is a horrible fascination with the emotion - the anger they produce. There are also movies that are just plain boring. Where nothing much happens, and what does happen is tedious and annoying, rather than horrible. Lots of kids’ movies in this category, “Marmaduke”, “Garfield”, etc. Lots of rom-coms and action movies.
Chicken Little wavers between the two worse categories. It’s immensely boring, for the most part. The plot is extremely thin. For those of you who don’t know the fable of Chicken Little (or Henny Penny, or Chicken Licken, as it is sometimes known), it is about a chicken who has an acorn fall on her head, leading her to assume the sky is falling, because she is a damn idiot. She causes a brief panic among other birds (Goosey Loosey, Ducky Lucky, Turkey Lurkey. It’s that kind of story.), until they are invited into the home of Foxy Loxy (of course), who eats them.
There’s not a lot to go on there, and not much room to expand. It’s rather like the Three Little Pigs in that the story is so methodical and formula-driven that there’s no room - no reason, in fact - to expand. And like The Three Little Pigs, Disney had already adapted this as a short, in 1943. The running time was a shade over 8 minutes, and that’s even with the added element that Foxy Loxy was willingly manipulating the crowd with tips her got from reading Mein Kampf. Yeah, it’s one of those. So in order to stretch it out to 80 minutes, they had to pad. And boy did they pad.
|Why am I not watching this?|
The worst offender is a loooooong stretch where Chicken Little (now a male -see Additional Thoughts) joins the baseball team. His father, you see, has been weird with him ever since the Sky Is Falling incident, and C.L. feels bad for embarrassing him. So he joins the school baseball team, and after being hopeless all season, manages to score the Winning Run at the Big Game. His dad is proud of him! Hooray! But that night, the sky falls on him again! And his dad doesn’t believe him again! And the town hates him again! And the entire baseball segment was completely irrelevant to the plot, but that’s fine because no one ever mentions it again! I’ve been reading a lot of Roger Ebert reviews lately, for obvious and regrettable reasons, and he said of this movie that if your film isn’t about baseball or aliens and you feel the need to spend so much time on baseball and aliens, it probably means your plot isn’t very good. Oh yeah, aliens.
See, unlike in the old story, it wasn’t an acorn that fell on Chicken Little, it was a camouflage panel from the underside of a spaceship that just happened to look like the sky at the time. The aliens are just there to get acorns themselves, not for anything sinister, but when one of their children wanders off, they assume it was kidnapped, and launch a full-scale invasion to get it back. This invasion includes vaporizing much of the film’s supporting cast, and while they’re eventually revealed to be fine - the weapons were just teleport guns that moved them inside the ships - it’s still a bit weird that an exceptionally fluffy movie would seem to start killing people ¾ of the way through.
|Isn't this like a person having a rug shaped like a fetus?|
See, Foxy Loxy has been switched to a female fox, and is in the position of class bully. But unlike most female bullies, she’s not given a “mean girls” type personality, but rather that of the typical jerky jock. She’s still a dreadfully written character, but at least she’s somewhat subverting expectations. But at the end, after the aliens return her, her brain has been scrambled, and she’s now super girly. The aliens offer to put her right, but Runt Of The Litter says she’s better like this, and kisses her, and everyone’s fine with it? Because you know what’s just GREAT? BRAINWASHING WOMEN TO CONFORM TO GENDER ROLES. Arrrrrrrgh.
There were more than a few points in this movie where I had to pause it just to give my frustration time to dissolve. At one point, I realized I had been screaming “NO NO NO” at my computer, and I don’t remember starting. But to be honest, it doesn’t often reach the depths of the truly loathsome movie. Mostly it’s content to stay in the ‘boring’ category, with the truly horrible elements showing up as little isolated moments. And that is the absolute worst kind of bad movie. To be sitting around bored and then suddenly rushed to pissed off is a jarring and unpleasant thing.
|Man, never put a good movie in the middle of your bad movie. It just makes the audience sad.|
This is most easily seen in the soundtrack, which wants to be Shrek. Remember how at the beginning of Shrek, they show Shrek taking a shower and getting ready for his day while “All Star” by Smash Mouth plays on the soundtrack? And because the movie was made by competent people, you don’t really notice that the music and lyrics of the song don’t really apply to what’s happening in the movie at all? Well, the songs in Chicken Little are about as appropriately chosen, but far more ineptly inserted. The worst offender is the use of the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe”. Not only is its inclusion completely gratuitous, but it was, by that point, ten years old. Too new to be ‘classic’, but too old for the target audience to register it as even the lazy, “Hey, they are saying a thing I know about” joke. There are plenty of those as well. At one point Chicken Little says “Oh, snap.” That’s the entire gag. He says that. One time. But it’s better than having someone say “You will survive” at a random time so the soundtrack can play “I Will Survive”. Which is a thing that happens.
I was at least holding out hope for the actors, as Disney has - apart from the notable misstep of Dinosaur - been doing quite well on that front lately. They managed to extra disappoint me yet again, though. While Dinosaur cast terrible and boring voice actors, this movie casts very talented voice actors in completely inappropriate roles. Chicken Little’s dad, for instance (Whose name is Buck Cluck, which I guess means CL’s actual last name is Cluck? Whatever.) is played by Garry Mashall, who is quite an accomplished character actor and takes to animation well, but sounds like a 70 year old Jewish TV producer from New York. Which he is, so that’s fine, but casting him as a hapless suburban dad and former high school sports star just doesn’t work. Likewise Joan Cusack doesn’t sound like a child, duck or otherwise. And while Zach Braff is good, he needs a certain kind of direction to hit his strong points, and he’s not getting it here. And whose idea was it to have him sing “We Are The Champions” a capella? No. Just… no.
The biggest crime of the casting is the wasted actors. Amy Sedaris is Foxy Loxy, and has pretty much nothing to do. Steve Zahn, who makes a great awkward dad, is Runt of the Little, where all he has to do is scream, whimper, and mutter Bee Gees songs to himself. Patrick Stewart, of all people, is their teacher, whose only function is to read the various animals names off a list. Admittedly, he nails it, because he’s Patrick Stewart and of course he does. Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara, and Patrick Warburton play the aliens in the last scene and again, do the best they can with bad material. Probably the biggest waste was Wallace Shawn as the principal, who has only two lines, both of which are exposition. And they don’t even design a character for him, they just use a recolored version of the generic crowd-filler dog, shot once in silhouette and once from behind.
Oh yeah, the animation. It’s terrible. Home on the range may have been ugly, but at least it had a cohesive design concept. Any named character in this looks like they’re from a completely different movie, and the background people all look like free samples that came with the animation program. They had an idea to use 2D animation techniques like squash and stretch in the 3D style, and developed a lot of new techniques to that effect. But the stuff that works in 2D doesn’t always work in 3D, and the movie winds up looking cheap and weird. The backgrounds in the town are all uneven and weird, and the design of the alien ship is generic and doesn’t make any sense with the aliens’ anatomy.
So yeah. This was, as I said, a modest success, but it was also the worst-reviewed Disney movie ever, a record it still holds. It’s not as completely abandoned by the company as, say, The Black Cauldron, though. Chicken Little still makes the occasional appearance in the theme parks, and was in a couple of Kingdom Hearts games. But all in all, they seem as happy as I am to forget this. They did stick with their computer animation phase, though. Let’s see if they improve at all. There is literally nowhere to go but up.
|The kids these days, they have the phones.|
* Chicken Little was originally a female chicken, as in the story, to be voiced by Holly Hunter. She had apparently recorded all her lines when word came down from the studio to make the chicken a boy. I was initially annoyed by this, until I read that the reason was because panicking and overreacting are seen (by idiots) as negative female attributes and they wanted to avoid stereotyping. Since the story couldn’t exist without those attributes, they regendered the chicken.
*Of course, I’ve also read that Michael Eisner wanted a boy character so it wouldn’t be a “girl movie”. But I’m choosing to go with the more positive story for my personal reality canon.
|Of course, they could have just split the difference.|
* For a while, a lot of people thought “All Star” was written specifically for Shrek, or at least closely associated the song with the movie. It was not. It was written for a movie, though, namely the mostly forgotten comedy Mystery Men, which involved D-list superheroes who have to step up their game in a world that screws with them at every turn. Now doesn’t that make more thematic sense for that song than “A cartoon ogre brushing his teeth”? It’s that kind of soundtrack appropriateness that this film is sorely missing.
* In the finale, the night sky is revealed to be the camouflaged undersides of an entire fleet of alien ships. When they separate and descend on the town, the sky above them is revealed to be broad daylight. Did no one in the town look at their clock?
* It’s mentioned a few times that the piece of sky that hit Chicken Little was shaped like a stop sign. It was shaped like a hexagon. Come on people, you’re not even trying!
* Credit where it is due: Here’s the parts I liked.
** As mentioned, Patrick Stewart calling roll. The man knows how to land a line, and hearing him say “Morkubine Porkupine” was quite funny.
** Don Knotts is mayor Turkey Lurkey, and he's the only character where they seem to have put effort into the design, writing, and voice. He doesn't get to do much, but it's generally a brief highlight in the scene.
** Some of the gags relating to the various animals were good, like a bird repeatedly walking into a window, or a bull who owns a china shop. But there were WAY more that were terrible, so yeah.
** There’s a scene where Buck apologizes for making Chicken Little feel that he had to earn his love. “Earning the parent’s love” is such a common theme in movies that it was nice to hear it shut down, even if the line was sort of randomly crammed in.
** There’s a running gag where Chicken Little attempts to deflect suspicion by taking a long pause and saying “Who we talking about?” Braff sells the line very well. Here’s a video, which is also useful because you can see a hint of how bad the rest of the movie is.
** There’s an announcer voiced by Harry Shearer, who at one point says “Everyone! Hold your horses! Horses! Hold your friends!” That’s pretty funny, I guess.
|What the hell is even happening in this movie.|