Chicken Little was originally supposed to be a female character, until Disney CEO at the time Michael Eisner said the market likes male leads.
Chicken Little fans might be surprised to know that the titular character was initially female on the drawing board until the former Chairman and CEO of Disney, Michael Eisner, demanded a male lead. Chicken Little was first released in 2005 as Disney’s first feature-length computer-animated film, which set an expansive future for Disney CGI animation with films like Zootopia and Frozen. The movie was directed and based on a story by Mark Dindal, who drew the idea from the old European fable, Henny Penny.
The story follows Chicken Little (voiced by Zach Braff), who claims the sky is falling after an acorn drops on his head. Unable to prove to the town that the sky “hit” him, he becomes the town’s scorned laughingstock. A year later, Little tries to redeem himself by joining the baseball team. One night after a baseball game, he is hit on the head again and discovers that his “falling sky” is actually a UFO. Little embarks on a mission to warn the town of an impending alien invasion.
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The original version of the movie, however, was a little different. Following his work on The Emperor’s New Groove, Dindal came up with a plot all about Chicken Little, to be voiced by Holly Hunter, and her relationship with her father. However, Disney CEO Michael Eisner didn’t want the film to have a female lead. Producer Randy Fullmer who worked with Dindal on the project, told Collider, “Michael Eisner just said, ‘I don’t want it to be a girl, I want it to be a boy.’”
Dindal says the suggestion was perhaps made due to some market research done by the studio that claimed, “girls will go see a movie with a boy protagonist, but boys won’t see a movie with a girl protagonist.” And, according to Dindal, “That was the wisdom at the time… until Frozen comes out and makes $1 billion.”
The plot’s core elements remain the same between Dindal’s original and the final version, though. In both versions, the protagonist is an anxious and timid little kid prone to overreacting, thus contributing to the town’s low inclination to trust Little’s claims. In Dindal’s original version, Chicken Little wants to make her dad proud, so she signs herself up for a summer camp, similar to the released movie’s baseball plot.
While an often forgotten film, Chicken Little led to a completely new market of films for the company that has since then released some of the biggest animated features of all time. Chicken Little grossed $314 million worldwide, making it Dindal’s highest-grossing film to date, though the film did meet with mediocre reviews. It does beg the question of how the original father/daughter story might have been received. The recent rise of female protagonists in animated and live-action productions, such as Frozen and Moana, is perhaps welcome proof to the industry that women can lead if they are just given the opportunity.
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