A Year in Shorts Day 361: "The Chicken from Outer Space"
I might have to turn in my millennial card for this, but I have never watched an episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog. I know, I know, I’m sorry! Just wasn’t something that got much play in my house growing up. Still, I do know a very important piece of Courage trivia- did you know that before it got turned into an animated series, its pilot was an Oscar-nominated short? Yes folks, 1996 saw the release of The Chicken from Outer Space, and with it, the birth of an animated icon.
Directed by John Dilworth, The Chicken from Outer Space follows what I must assume would go on to be a typical premise for the series, with a strange monster arriving at Courage's farm, and said cowardly dog trying to protect his owners from the threat. Created for Cartoon Network's What a Cartoon! Show, the short was meant to act as a pilot for the series which followed. So hey, it was successful in one front at least. (I'm still unsure as to how television animation is eligible for the Oscars, but I have to assume I just don't understand the process for getting a short nominated.) I guess it's not hard to see why the short was a hit. The 90s were kind of a wild time for cartoons, and The Chicken from Outer Space fits into that mold pretty well. Highly stylized hand drawn animation mixed with early CGI, a very random and gross sense of humor and a healthy dose of brutal violence. (Seriously, 90s cartoons had body counts, man.) If any of that sounds like something that'd be up your alley (or if you're just a Courage fan looking for a hit of nostalgia), you can check out the original airing below:
While The Chicken from Outer Space was successful at getting the pilot picked up for a series, I must admit it hasn't really made me all that interested in checking out Courage the Cowardly Dog for myself. There were a lot of cartoons that I didn't watching growing up for a variety of reasons, but I think Courage probably fell into that category of shows my parents didn't let us watch because they thought it was annoying. And honestly, I can't say I blame them. If this is your thing, more power to you, but I found a lot of The Chicken from Outer Space pretty aggravating. It's not necessarily a problem with the film, per se; it's just clear that Dilworth has that aggressive style of comedy which was really popular in the 90s and which I could never quite jive with, even as a kid. I also would be lying if I didn't say the short was just incredibly unpleasant to look at. It's hard to get too bent out of shape about that as most of it is clearly due to aesthetic choice (or limited resources and early computer technology), so I don't want you to think I'm calling the animation bad. I just don't like the style is all, and it makes it a bit difficult for me to really get into the short as a result. Perhaps this will be seen as blasphemous, but I much preferred Runaway Brain, also released the same year, which had a similar tone but was much more fun to watch.
But The Chicken from Outer Space has more good going for it than bad, and I think it's worth highlighting. The short is brimming with creativity and energy, with Dilworth throwing a new visual gag at the screen whenever he gets the opportunity. Sure, not all of them land, but the ratio is in the short's favor. Dilworth has an old school sense of humor that's easy to appreciate, like Looney Tunes on steroids. It doesn't really make me laugh, but it's certainly entertaining, and I can see why it was so popular. And honestly, it's hard to fault a short that doesn't click with me simply because it tries too hard. At the very least you have to commend that. Still, I'm not upset that The Chicken from Outer Space lost to A Close Shave, and I can't imagine most people are either. A Close Shave is a god damn classic, even if, in hindsight, I think saying it was better than The Wrong Trousers may have been a bit silly. Hey, opinions change! And perhaps in the future I might come around on The Chicken from Outer Space. Only time will tell!
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