When watching Chicken in the Rough, I was struck by a feeling that I had seen this short before, or at least something similar. Chip and Dale were a new addition, but this seemed awfully familiar. That’s a hazard when watching ALL the Disney shorts, and when I started doing some digging, I found out that my feeling was correct. Chicken in the Rough borrows liberally from animation first used in Farmyard Symphony, a 1938 Silly Symphony short. That doesn’t diminish its humor, though, as on the whole it’s a fairly silly and fun use of the chipmunks.
I point out that it does reuse animation, however, to further the point I have made many times about the Disney studio under Walt Disney – they were a business. As much as many fans and the company themselves wants to paint the portrait of Uncle Walt who despised revisiting things and only did original work, there were deadlines to meet, films to churn out and sometimes shortcuts were taken. In the case of Chicken in the Rough, it was reusing characters from Farmyard Symphony so that some animation could be used again and the model sheets were already developed for these characters.
The use of Father and Mother Chicken from that earlier short works very well here, as Chip and Dale get sucked into their world while Mother Chicken is waiting for her eggs to hatch. While Dale thinks the eggs are giant nuts, he ends up accidentally hatching one of them himself. Since the chickens are not known for their mild tempers and easygoing nature, this becomes a problem, and Dale soon finds himself having to substitute for the chicken.
The best gags in the short are Dale’s attempts to hide and reconstitute the egg shell that the young chicken hatched. Watching him quickly assemble the shell to hide either the young chick or himself reminded me of the Lego video games that are so prevalent these days. Even the sounds are somewhat the same. It’s a quick moving, funny gag that repeats itself over and over without becoming tired. That’s the kind of thing that was rare to see from Disney in 1951 and the years immediately preceding it.
Chicken in the Rough ends with Dale being assumed to be part of the chicken family by Mother Chicken, which causes no end of amusement for Chip. It’s a fairly fun gag for the audience as well. The biggest issue with the short is its pacing, as it starts very slowly with Chip and Dale not coming into the picture fully until 90 seconds into a 7 minute short. That’s mainly due to the reuse of the earlier animation, as they were obviously not in those scenes. But once they arrive, the Disney team manages to create something new from the old, and in a pretty fun and inventive way.