The Walt Disney Co. pioneered feature animation in the 1930s -- but later this year it will take its first full-fledged foray into computer animation with "Chicken Little."
The $100-million-plus animated film, which debuts in November, represents a new twist on the classic fable of a young chicken who causes widespread panic when he mistakes a falling acorn for a piece of the sky.
The film has garnered a high level of scrutiny in the corporate suites at the company's Burbank headquarters. Sources familiar with the project say the ending of "Chicken Little" was reworked after Disney chief Michael Eisner expressed unhappiness with the original version.
Disney has a lot riding on the success of "Chicken Little." Pixar Animation Studios last year ended talks with Disney to extend beyond 2006 a longtime lucrative partnership that has produced such computer-generated hits as the "Toy Story" movies, "Finding Nemo" and "The Incredibles."
Facing a future without Pixar, Disney is under pressure to demonstrate to investors that it can succeed on its own within the fiercely competitive world of computer animation as opposed to the traditional hand-drawn style that Disney once dominated. In recent years, the company has lost ground to competitors and stumbled with such traditionally animated flops as "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" and "Home on the Range."
As computer animation takes off, Disney faces mounting competition from rivals. This spring, for example, 20th Century Fox will release "Robots" and DreamWorks will debut "Madagascar."
"Chicken" was originally scheduled for release this summer but that date was pushed to November to fill a holiday slot created when Pixar decided to move its next film, "Cars," to summer 2006.
"Chicken" is directed by Mark Dindal, who also directed the Disney film "The Emperor's New Groove."