Exactly how does one know when the sky is falling? Chicken Little knows because a piece of it fell on him. The rest of us just have to guess.
Maybe that’s why nobody believes Little when he frantically urges everyone to take cover. Or maybe they’d all just read The Boy Who Cried Wolf as a bedtime story the night before. Either way, poor Little gets laughed out of school, town and even his own home—his dad refuses to believe his tiny tattler is on to something big.
A year goes by, and Little still hasn’t lived down his alleged gaffe. So he’s none too happy about it when another piece of sky smacks him in the noggin and bounces into his bedroom. One full-scale alien invasion later, though, Little gets his just desserts after he shows everybody—Dad included—how brave one little chicken can be.
Dads, make sure your kids know you love them, trust them and are proud of them. In the tradition of Finding Nemo, Shark Tale and The Incredibles, adults learn the biggest lessons here. Little’s dad is at first embarrassed by his son. He doesn’t believe him even when his chick pleads with him to do so. He makes Little feel small and unwanted, and he shames him in front of his friends and neighbors. That all changes through the course of the story, which tries to teach parents how to relate to Junior. “You need to know that I love you, no matter what,” Dad finally tells his son. “And I’m sorry if I ever made you feel that that was something you had to earn.” Several times Dad makes remarks about how much he misses his (presumably deceased) wife and how she would have been so much better than he at helping Little through his crisis.
Being courageous and following the strength of your convictions build upon that familial foundation. Little and his friends are scared for their lives, but they press on when the chips (or pieces of sky, in this case) are down, and they always put the safety of others ahead of their own. When Little’s pal, Fish Out of Water, is captured by the aliens, his comrades do everything in their power to free him, even going so far in their quest as to board a creepy flying saucer. Little, in particular, is resourceful, both in everyday life and while taking on the aliens.
As a negative example, Foxy Loxy teaches kids that being a bully and hogging all the glory is obnoxious and ugly. Hyperbolic depictions of individuality among Little’s classmates offer viewers inspiration to be themselves. Little’s friend Abby (the ugly duckling) spends most of her time encouraging him and urging him to talk things through with his dad. [Spoiler Warning] The ultimate revelation that the mean ol’ aliens are really nice folk after all subtly prompts us to not judge others too quickly and do what we can to make friends even with those who seem strange to us.
Little directs his wishes toward the stars, imploring them to give him “another chance.” When he gets his wish, he looks heavenward again and says thanks.
While not used in a sexual context, there is a reference to a video series titled Chickens Gone Wild. The Spice Girls song “Wannabe,” which includes the lyric “If you wanna be my lover/You have got to give,” is enthusiastically sung by Abby and Runt of the Litter (a pig). Little plants a kiss on Abby that sweeps her off her feet.
Chicken Little‘s alien attack, ray gun-style violence would be too intense for my kindergarten-age daughter. But it’s laughably mundane and predictable for tweens, teens and adults. Cartoon bonks, splats and tumbles are onscreen mainstays, as is lighthearted, colorful warfare once the UFOs reveal themselves. Multi-tentacled robots (scaled down versions of the ones in The Incredibles) emerge and set about destroying the town. Several townsfolk are zapped by what you think are laser guns at first. Peace of mind and a zero body count are restored when you discover the vanished have been merely teleported, not incinerated.
The town’s water tower is knocked over, and its ball-shaped tank does some major damage and endangers scores of folks before it rolls to a stop. A bird repeatedly throws himself into a plate-glass window. Persecuted for being the “crazy little chicken,” Little is bombarded with acorns, trampled by a mob and thrown across a gymnasium. He’s also run over by a car, but he’s so small that he’s not hurt.
When Runt gets mad at a vending machine for not taking his dollar bill, he picks the case up and slams it into the ground.
Little and his dad both use “Oh snap!” as a euphemism. Dad interjects “Jeez.” Name-calling includes “loser.”
Most of Little’s teachers are either befuddled or mean. His baseball coach cares only about winning and forces Little to ride the bench for an entire season. (When Little finally gets a chance to play, it’s because he’s the only one left who isn’t injured.) After divvying the class up into “popular” and “unpopular” teams, a gym teacher encourages everyone to pound Runt during a game of dodgeball. A bus driver roars away, intentionally leaving Little behind. The announcer at Little’s baseball game rambles on about how the game’s fun isn’t in its playing, but rather in the winners getting to gloat afterwards.
An early scene has Little losing his pants in a battle with a wad of sticky chewing gum. He’s then forced to go to school in his underwear (cheerleaders gasp and avert their eyes; other kids snicker). “Frozen pee” falling from airplanes is discussed. (It’s also called “tinkle,” “piddle” and “whiz.”) Runt belches loudly and repeatedly as he rolls down a small hill.
Scared to tell his dad that the sky is falling—again—Little sneaks out of the house without telling him. He also ignores his coach’s instructions to “take a walk,” and is rewarded for swinging by getting a home run. (Lesson to kids: If you think you know better than the grown-ups in charge, you probably do. They’re holding you back. Follow your heart and life will be good.)
An hour or so before I saw this film, I decided to raid my daughter’s bedroom where I scrounged a tattered copy of the children’s story it’s based on. That classic tale, sometimes called Henny Penny, sometimes called Chicken Licken, sometimes called The Sky Is Falling, teaches a couple of basic life lessons: Don’t overreact and jump to conclusions (an acorn is just an acorn) and don’t spread rumors (“telephone” is not a game you want to play in real life). Disney’s new movie concentrates on believing in your kids and courageously facing the future.
You see, this animated Chicken Little isn’t being paranoid as was his literary ancestor. The sky truly is falling—and it looks strangely like a UFO.
That means Foxy Loxy doesn’t have a prayer of a chance at remaining the big baddie in the face of irritable extraterrestrial robots. But it does mean Chicken Little is much more appropriate for the middle school set than it is for grade schoolers. There’s enough madness and mayhem here—not to mention that whole sky-really-is-falling thing—to make me want to warn parents and teachers not to jump right in with all of the kiddies. That said, I’m happy to report that Little and his pals are not ruthlessly gobbled up by Foxy right before the credits roll!
A postscript for parents: A single “mistake” defines Chicken Little, and he spends “the rest of his life” trying to live it down. As he puts it, “One moment destroyed my life.” Later, another single moment—his home run—redefines him as a hero to his friends and his dad, who says, “I guess that puts the whole ‘sky is falling’ incident behind us once and for all.” Insecure (and observant) young viewers may latch on to this kind of oversimplification and use it as license to magnify the significance of their own bumblings, whatever they might be.