These days, Hollywood is scrambling to push out female-led movies, even occasionally going to the extent of gender-bending iconic roles from male to female. To the surprise of no one, the industry was not always so open-minded. In a Collider interview, Mark Dindal, the director of the 2005 Disney 3D animated comedy Chicken Little, revealed that his original intention had been to make the title character a female.
"I have two daughters, so I immediately went to a father/daughter story. The initial one, she was a very nervous, anxious little kid who was prone to panic attacks and overreacting. It was an acorn but in her mind it was the sky and it caused this big catastrophe in the town. [Chicken Little wanted to make her dad proud, so she signed herself up for a summer camp to build confidence.] "When she went there, the really friendly sheep counselors had been abducted and wolves-in-sheep-clothing had taken over with the very silly idea to plump the kids up to cook them at the end for a big wolf feast. And she ends up saving the day."
The studio had worked on that version of the story for a couple of years, and the storyboards had been completed. Then Michael Eisner, former Chairman, and CEO of Disney, stepped in with a very specific request that was actually a demand, according to producer Randy Fullmer.
"Michael Eisner just said, 'I don't want it to be a girl, I want it to be a boy. There's Mark with a couple of daughters and he as a director felt like I totally understand little girls, I know this. [Making the protagonist a boy is] like asking him to make a movie about African natives."
For his part, Dindal was informed by Disney that they had conducted market research and that the request to turn Chicken Little into a boy was a result of that research.
"I remember being told, 'Girls will go see a movie with a boy protagonist but boys won't see a movie with a girl protagonist. That was the wisdom at the time, until Frozen comes out and makes $1 billion... After we switched it to a boy [Eisner] seemed much happier with that choice and that direction."
And so the movie that Dindal had envisioned making for his daughters was turned into a different project entirely, which eventually included not just a male protagonist, but a sub-plot of an alien invasion, and other drastic changes to the story that Dindal and Fullmer had initially set out to tell.
In later years, Disney would learn with Frozen and Tangled that making an action-packed movie centering on a heroine could earn big money at the box office. It is a lesson that Hollywood seems to need to keep learning every few years, as one failed movie with a female protagonist is seen as proof that men are not interested in seeing female-led action and adventure films. Hopefully, this time around, the trend of making movies with kickass female leads is going to finally stick in the entertainment industry. This news comes from Collider.