Saturday, February 24, 2007

Chicken Little

This is one of my very favorite cartoons and one that I feel deserves a lot more attention.

Mike Barrier was kind enough to share with me the animator's draft for the Disney cartoon "Chicken Little" (1943), and I have done an animator's breakdown from it. I am sure most of you will be a mystified by these identifications as I was.

One note I should address: the draft of this cartoon does indeed verify that what Milt Gray has been telling us for years is true. Foxy Loxy does indeed consult the book "Mein Kampf" to tell him how to manipulate the chickens. This was changed in most reissue prints that survive today (Milt claims he saw the original at a kiddie matinee in Burbank in 1965).

So what Leonard Maltin says on the DVD is wrong, and it makes perfect sense with the context of the story. A normal book on psychology would not be a source of pure evil in a Hollywood cartoon made in 1943, but a book by Adolf Hitler most certainly would be. So this is just a shout out to everyone to be on the look-out for this rare 'alternate' version.

Onto the cartoon now...


These drafts are highly illuminating as it adds to the already impressive resumes of the Nine Old Men and other animators. Ollie Johnston is always remembered for soft but effective animation like Bambi or Mr. Smee, yet he animated the wildest take in any Disney cartoon here! I had always thought that to be Kimball's work.

That's not to say Ward Kimball's animation isn't anything short of amazing in this film. Everyone (myself included) attributes Kimball to anything wild and crazy in any Disney film. But here he is capable of some wonderful subtlety with his scenes of Foxy Loxy. He may seem like a typical Disney villain, but he's enriched more than that stereotype, with Kimball's superb acting skills, because the fact of the matter is is that he is pure evil.

As it did with Kimball and Johnston, the film shows Milt Kahl's versatility. We always associate Kahl with literalism, yet the birds in this picture are hilarious looking while remaining human. I find it horribly ironic Kahl can help me relate and identify more with Chicken Little than he would with practically rotoscoped characters like Cinderella. This type of funny animation was apparently Kahl's favorite kind and I'd love to know more of what he did like it.

When we all first saw this cartoon (unprepared of course), our first impression of Foxy Lovy is the feeling of "Oh, this is just a typical cartoon moron, he'll probably lose out" (Frank Graham's terrific vocal work helps 'ensure' us of this presumption). The giant twist on the ending gives us all a shock, but it also gives us the message (most likely intended, and not thrown in our face like other films) that evil comes in many forms and to always be prepared.

To put this all into context with the normal tone of this blog... Who else wishes the recent CGI version ended this way? ("Noooo! Now what'll we do for the DTV sequel?!")

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