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Propaganda & Animation #1: Chicken Little

22 Dec

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Anyone remember Disney’s classic adaption of Chicken Little? You know, the one with the adorable little chicken and a recitation of Mein Kampf?

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Not as good as Pinocchio quoting Joseph Stalin.

No, I am not talking about the 2005 feature animated film. Although there’s some devious sub messages in that film, I’m sure. Instead, we’ll be looking at the 1943 short film directed by Clyde Geronimi.

This is my first installment of Propaganda & Animation, which looks into odd and fascinating union of (surprise, surprise) Propaganda and Animation. One of the main reasons I created this blog was to explore animation’s role in the exciting and disturbing world of Propaganda. Most people don’t realize this, but beloved characters such as Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Popeye, and others were masters at Propaganda. And perhaps nobody in Hollywood was as great a Propagandist than Walt Disney. Heck, the US Government even commissioned Walt Disney to make films to convince Latin Americans to not become Nazis. But that’s a tale for another day. Aside from creating propaganda for potential international allies, Disney also created propaganda pieces to be used here on the Home front.

The reason I’m starting with Chicken Little is that it is incredibly blunt in its propagandist nature (which makes it easy to write about), and I automatically adore anything that has a farm animals in it (which makes it even easier to write about).

Let’s first take a look at the film, which you can watch right here. Now this particular video begins with a disclosure from Leonard Maltin, so you know some serious shit is about to go down.

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Thank you for gracing our presence Lenny!

Maltin doesn’t just spew out his usual “Beware of racism and violence” bit. He goes as far as to state that, “Chicken Little is one Disney cartoon that parents might want to see for themselves before deciding if it’s appropriate for their kids”. Yikes.

The film begins as your run of the mill Disney fairy tale. You have a nice little barnyard overfilling with cutsie little animals. We then meet Chicken Little, who is described as a “Playboy and Yo-Yo Champ”

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And manages to be nerdier than the 2005 Chicken Little.

 

The narrator explains that the farm animals feel safe and secure because they are surrounded by a big, strong fence (like some Americans felt safe because a big, strong ocean separated them from Hitler). Speaking of which, the villain then makes his entrance.

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Quick little side note, Foxy Loxy was animated by my all time favorite animator Ward Kimball, who readers of the blog know I’m a huge fan of. Instead of using physical force, Foxy Loxy decides to use cunning and Psychology to destroy the farmyard. Originally, the title of the book he reads from was Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Deciding to be a bit more subtle, Disney changed to the title to Psychology, but the passages that Foxy Loxy reads are still from Mein Kampf. Some choice quotations include; “If you tell a lie, don’t tell a little one. Tell them a big one” and “Undermine the faith of the masses and their leaders”.

After reading, “To influence the masses, aim first at the least intelligent”. He asks, “Who looks nice and stupid?” and settles on Chicken Little.

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Yeah…. that’s about right.

Foxy Loxy, using theatricals that would make Liberace proud, convinces Chicken Little that a piece of the sky hit him on the head. In a panic, Chicken Little tells the farmyard that the sky is falling and the farm animals proceeds to lose their shit. Cockey Lockey succeeds in quelling the future fox fodder’s fears, by pointing out that the piece of the sky is nothing more than a hunk of wood with a star painted on it.

Undeterred, Foxy Loxy employs drag and impersonation to make the farm animals loose their faith in Cockey Lockey’s reason. He then puppets Chicken Little to be the new leader, who evangelizes everyone to the way of the Falling Sky. Chicken Little encourages everyone to run hide in a cave, per Foxy Loxey’s suggestion.

As Foxy Loxey follows them into the cave, the narrator reassures us that “everything will turn out alright”. Very Disney. But then we are shown-

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Why isn’t this a ride at Disneyland?

In shock, the narrator proclaims, “Hey wait a minute, this isn’t right! This isn’t the way it ends in my book!” To which Foxy Loxey, holding his book responds, “Oh yeah? Don’t believe everything you read brother!”

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Why isn’t there a ride based off of this at Disneyland?

With a dark ending like that, I’m not surprised that Maltin recommends parents to view this short first. I don’t really need to analysis this short too much, the film is incredibly blunt in its message. Chicken Little is a wartime parable warning the American public to keep a calm head in tumultuous times. For Americans today, the end of WWII seems inevitable. Of course Fascism in Germany, Italy, and Japan would fall. Good always triumphs over that sort of evil! But in the 1940s, it didn’t always look that way. The intentions of this short were to, in a very macabre fashion, tell Americans to keep calm and be controlled by reason. Fear, irrationality, and panic is what the enemy wanted. Keep Calm and Carry On.

Interestingly enough, the original ending featured a gravestones with swastikas representing the dead farm animals (is that a sentence you expected to read on a cartoon blog?). But Disney changed it, along with the Mein Kampf reference, to make the film less dated and more lasting. Which I suppose is a smart move. Because this parable is applicable to our world today. Don’t panic, that’s what they want.

All in all, I like this short. The characters are fun, it’s not condescending, and it doesn’t sugarcoat what is at stake here. There is no happy ending for irrational behaviour. The writing is slick and the animation decent. And successfully gets the point across.

I hope you enjoyed my first post in THREE YEARS. How criminal is that? In addition to Propaganda & Animation, I have a couple of other projects in mind that will generate posts. So here’s to me staying around! Happy Holidays.

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