Jab’s Disney Reviews: Chicken Little & Meet The Robinsons & Bolt

Okay, it’s another pair of “Disney movies Jab hasn’t actually seen”, so this will serve the purpose more of documenting the strange early days of Disney’s CGI animation attempts. 

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CHICKEN LITTLE (2005):
Written by:
 Steve Bencich, Ron J. Friedman, Ron Anderson, Mark Dindal (director) & Mark Kennedy

-One of the most universally-reviled Animated Canon pictures of all time, this one was named after a propaganda cartoon made during World War II. It’s about Chicken Little, who becomes a laughing stock after telling everyone “The sky is falling!”, but only really wants to make his father proud of him. And it turns out the “sky” is actually a UFO, and now he and his friends have to fight off an alien invasion, because of course they do. But then it turns out the aliens are only “vaporizing” people because they’re looking for their lost child, and Chicken Little saves the day, being hailed as a hero while his father learns to appreciate him. That’s it- that’s the whole story.

The movie featured COUNTLESS re-writes, as various executives popped in to give advice. Almost every character switched genders during the production phase, resulting in re-casting out the wazoo (Holly Hunter, Sean Hayes and others were replaced), in a film that more or less openly mimics the then-popular “DreamWorks Style”, making Disney look like a bunch of wannabes attempting the edgy, mean, “Random Humor” so popular at the rival studio. As you might imagine, the “Development Hell” phase was not conducive to a great movie, nor was aping a studio that was falling into a backlash of its own. A subplot of Foxy Loxy- an arrogant, athletic tomboy bully- getting “brainwashed” (the term “mind rape” has been tossed about in reference to this) into being a docile Southern Belle, which all the other characters see as an improvement, is also controversial as you might expect.

I had zero interest in seeing this- I was still a confessed Disney fan, but wasn’t really into seeing a ton of cartoons in the theaters at this point… and this looked like a piece of crap, and I didn’t really have time to watch literally EVERYTHING. It just seemed really dumb. It features Zach Braff of Scrubs as the main character (post-Garden State and before people got sick of anything featuring him that wasn’t Scrubs), Joan Cusack, and a few others.

Reception & Cultural Impact:
-Surprisingly, the movie actually did pretty well ($314 million worldwide), likely owing to the “CGI = Good” mentality caused by Pixar & DreamWorks movies, though was FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAR below Disney’s ’90s output and what would come in the future.

It was notable that this was during the time when Pixar was humiliating Disney at every turn, creating outstanding critical and box office successes. This was a CGI film in an era where they were GUARANTEED to earn a profit- it made about the same amount that Bolt did four years later, despite one being MUCH more well-received among critics and audiences). Despite that, however, the movie was despised by pretty much everybody, with the “DreamWorks Style” now falling into disuse (DW ended up mimicking Disney’s more family-friendly, less-cruel take on comedy as well). Read one review here. It is the lowest-rated of the entire Animated Canon, sitting at below 50% on most review aggregator sites.

It is perhaps most notable for being the final Disney film released before Disney officially merged with Pixar, and John Lasseter took over the entirety of the animation wing. A sequel was planned due to its box office success, but Lasseter axed all sequels immediately upon his ascension, realizing that they were damaging the Disney Brand. The movie’s status as the bridge between eras means that Chicken Little is basically the bastard child of the franchise, and is effectively ignored completely in retrospectives, and has no impact on the merchandise or Parks as a whole. — 

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MEET THE ROBINSONS (2007):
Written by:
 William Joyce (original book), Jon A. Bernstein, Michelle Spritz, Don Hall, Nathan Greno, Aurion Redson, Joe Mateo & Stephen Anderson

-This looked like YET ANOTHER CGI FAMILY COMEDY in a decade filled to the freaking brim with them, so I never got around to seeing it. Seriously, once Pixar made bank on every release they did, there was a never-ending stream of movies with the same general design (super-exaggerated characters) and same approach to advertising and audiences (throw some pop culture humor for the adults and make it a kewl-looking CGI cartoon for the kids). It seemed to do okay, but like I said, the sheer glut of these films in the exact same era basically ensured that this film would be forgotten to history forever- who could possibly remember one CGI film out of the dozens that came around it?

This feature is based off of A Day With Wilbur Robinson, a 1990 picture-book by William Joyce, which is definitely an odd choice. It’s about a boy who visits a friend and discovers his bizarre, oddball family. In the movie, the orphaned boy Lewis gets Wilbur Robinson to take him to the future, along with a robotic bowler hat. Some Time Travel shenanigans are afoot, involving people discovering familial relations, and the hat turns out to be evil.

The movie was the first one produced under John Lasseter’s run as head of Disney Animation, but he didn’t have as much to do with it’s creation, given the timing. He did declare that the villain wasn’t scary enough, and had 60% of the movie scrapped and started over, though.

Reception & Cultural Impact:
-The movie only did okay with reviewers, and wasn’t very successful, making only $170 million worldwide (about half of Chicken Little‘s take). Given that Lasseter was only partway involved, it was basically dumped and ignored forever, as Disney Animation took a whole new tack from then on.Next up, John Lasseter brings Pixar’s design process to the Disney Studios, “fixing” a movie and helping jumpstart a NEW Renaissance. In another movie or two.  

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BOLT (2008):
Written by:
 Dan Fogelman & Chris Williams

A CGI movie that makes several attempts at being a “Pixar” film- the serious moments, the sad bits, and the quirky concept (a dog that’s the star of a TV show that thinks the show is really him doing incredible stuff). I found it pretty mediocre save for some great bits with the hamster (“DESTINY’S calling… will you ACCEPT THE CHARGES??”) and a sad moment where the cat character reveals that she was abandoned for reasons she’s never been able to figure out. Sort of a “Weak Pixar” movie. So yes, I actually saw this one.

The concept is a bit strange- the main hero is an “Animal Actor” who performs in a show where he’s a super-dog. But, being a dog, he actually thinks he REALLY HAS the powers of his TV show character. And so when he gets lost and is left on his own, he must make do under his own power, with a variety of pals, including an insane hamster and an abandoned cat that uses a vicious facade as a cover for her insecurity and sorrow.

The movie is somewhat important to Disney history because when John Lasseter took over as head of Disney Animation, this is where he basically added the “Pixar Elements” to Disney’s design process. When they moved over to Disney, several Pixar guys noticed an atmosphere of… well, fear. NOBODY wanted to talk negatively about anything and be seen as “that guy”, and so things weren’t being properly discussed or vetted in the design process, and so Disney was churning out embarrassing, mediocre pictures (Chicken LittleMeet the Robinsons)- NOT something a studio wants to get known for. And so with Bolt, Lasseter and his team sat down with the Disney guys and said “HOW ARE WE GONNA FIX THIS MOVIE?”. And the process therein made it much more successful overall, and the start of a strong relationship across both studios.The movie starred John Travolta (whose career has basically been a rollercoaster, seeing him being one of the 1970s’ most iconic performers, then moving around bit parts and box office disasters that threatened his career repeatedly) and Miley Cyrus (who at this point was a “Girl Next Door” Disney Teen Star, who then decided to take a full “Sex Sells” approach, acting like a drooling imbecile while basically getting naked at the drop of a hat to gain album sales… which TOTALLY WORKED, as she had a ton of hit records, until the public backlash basically resulted in her being dropped all at once). It also caused Chris “Lilo and Stitch” Sanders to leave Disney, as his American Dog film was basically scrapped and rewritten to be turned into this, and he resisted the changes the Pixar guys intended to make- so not everyone saw this intervention as a benefit.Reception & Cultural Impact:
-The movie got mostly good, but not raving, reviews, and did about $300 million overall, only a little less than the late Renaissance pictures. Though it was well-received, it basically got ignored by Disney history. The fact that Miley Cyrus turned into a public spectacle (and a really strong example of how celebrity works- you can be as controversial and sexually-explicit as you want and even public disgust won’t bring you down… but people WILL eventually get bored of the “shock” and then you’ve got nothing left in the tank) doesn’t help.

The next bunch of movies would prove a lot more publicly notable and have a much greater effect, however.

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