Look, everyone! This sky is falling in this week’s breakdown!
Not to be confused with the Disney CG feature released in 2005, a cartoon “special” of Chicken Little was first animated by the studio in 1943 – much more in line with the original folk tale that originated around the 19th century. But this version of the story, released during the height of World War II, is a contemporary allegory: A simple barnyard community, already under the rule of the presumptuous Cocky Locky, falls prey to the words of a sinister alarmist, Foxy Loxy. His campaign of whispered hearsay and lies influence the not-so-bright Chicken Little to lead his fowl away from the confines of the coop. Their grim downfall is created via rumors about Cocky Locky. Gossiping was a constant problem amongst soldiers during the war. Slogans such as “Loose Lips Might Sink Ships” were emblazoned on government posters to warn against unguarded speech that would aid the enemy.Radio actor Frank Graham provides the narration and character voices for this film. Graham’s sublime vocal abilities appeared in other studios’ cartoons, including Warner Bros., MGM (often as Tex Avery’s Wolf) and Columbia as the Fox and the Crow. He portrayed “The Wandering Vaquero” on the CBS radio program Romance of the Ranchos (1941-46). He served as an announcer for different shows that profiled popular singers including Ginny Simms, Rudy Vallee and Nelson Eddy. At the peak of his career, portraying Jack Regan, Investigator and narrating the anthology series Satan’s Waitin’ for CBS, Graham committed suicide in 1950 at the age of 35. (More information here.)
Before arriving at Disney’s, director Clyde “Gerry” Geronimi collaborated with a different Walter. He worked with Walter Lantz for about a decade; he animated and co-directed shorts for him at International Film Service and Bray Studios in New York, and moved to the West to work at Lantz’s new Universal outfit as an animator. He served as an animator at Disney’s, until he became a director in the mid-‘30s, with Beach Picnic (1939).
In Chicken Little, Geronimi casts most of the animators by character—Milt Kahl animates on a majority of the scenes with Chicken Little and the barnyard fowl. Foxy Loxy’s scenes are split between Ward Kimball and Milt Kahl, while Norman Tate supervised the animation on Cocky Locky, and scenes with Goosey Poosey and Ducky Lucky. Ollie Johnston and John Lounsbery are assigned by key sequences; Johnston animates Chicken Little listening to “the voice of doom” and running to warn the community. Lounsbery animates the montage sequence of the barnyard gossiping about Cocky Locky’s supposed derelictions; he is also assigned later sequences of the panicked lot rushing to the cave.
In conjunction with the caricatured human behavior in Chicken Little’s animation, there is also some complex acting in the film. Chicken Little’s progression throughout the film is portrayed with a sharp credibility in Milt Kahl’s animation. During the sequence as the excited Chicken Little displays and holds the piece of the sky which struck him on the head, the barnyard commands his attention. After Cocky Locky disproves him, they disperse and leave him alone, disheartened, with a tear in his eye. As Cocky Locky’s reputation wanes, Chicken Little is prompted by “the voice of doom” to take charge as a leader, giving him purpose, while striving for acclaim. However, after Cocky Locky, their former leader, is hit by another piece of the sky, the entire barnyard populace turns to their new diminutive guide, who realizes the gravity of his responsibilities to sustain their protection.
In the original release of Chicken Little, Foxy Loxy reads how to manipulate his prey from Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” In this version presented here, as shown in circulating copies, it was changed to the more generic “Psychology.” No known copy of the original release has surfaced; animator Milt Gray recalled viewing it at a Saturday matinee for children matinee, of all venues, in the early ‘60s, mixed with a random selection of Disney shorts.
In the draft, the original dialogue is significantly different from the revised changes in the re-issue, including the closing line, which Foxy utters to the narrator: “Oh yeah? That’s how it reads in ’Mein Kampf’!” It’s unclear when these changes in the animation and the soundtrack occurred, though they could’ve been inserted before Frank Graham’s death in 1950.
The draft also indicates the layout artist was Charles Phillipi, a cartoonist for the Los Angeles Examiner before Disney hired him in the summer of 1931. Rusty Jones is the film’s assistant director. The first page of the mimeographed document is shown as a negative image, in order to read the text, instead of displaying a badly faded page.
Enjoy the breakdown video! Be sure to compare the dialogue of the draft and the re-issue version shown here:
(Thanks to Mark Kausler, Yowp, Frank Young and Michael Barrier for their help.)