Summer Movie Showdown: "Chicken Run" Review


Summer Movie Showdown: "Chicken Run" Review

-- Rating: G
Length: 84 minutes
Release Date: June 21, 2000
Directed by: Peter Lord, Nick Park
Genre: Family Comedy

"Chicken Run" is a British family comedy filmed in stop-motion animation. It was produced by Aardman Animations, and DreamWorks provided some of the financing in exchange for distribution rights. This partnership was supposed to make another four films, which were never completed due to creative differences.

The Tweedys run a chicken farm in Yorkshire, England. Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) is the brains of the operation while Mr. Tweedy (Tony Haygarth) does all the work on the farm. Ginger (Julia Sawalha) is the leader of the chickens, and she routinely attempts to escape from the farm with the help of rats Nick (Timothy Spall) and Fetcher (Phil Daniels). Mrs. Tweedy releases Ginger from solitary confinement one day, and the chicken discovers that Edwina has failed to lay her quota of eggs for the week. Mr. Tweedy beheads Edwina and the couple eats her for dinner.

Ginger soon realizes that the farm is failing to make a profit, which will soon force the Tweedys to take drastic action. Ginger begins to intensify her escape attempts, and she concludes they must go over the fence. Rocky (Mel Gibson), a Rhode Island Red rooster, crashes into the coop and the other chickens begin fawning over him. Ginger hides Rocky from the Tweedys on the condition he teaches the other chickens how to fly. However, Rocky is unable to do so immediately since he injured his wing during the crash. He then puts the chickens through an exercise program that seems to have no purpose.

Mrs. Tweedy receives an automated pie-making machine and doubles the chickens' food rations. Ginger determines that the purpose of the food ration increase is to fatten the chickens up before baking them into pies. She discloses Mrs. Tweedy's plan to the rest of the chickens, which demoralizes them. Rocky organizes a party to cheer up the chickens while the Tweedys kidnap Ginger. Rocky rescues Ginger before the Tweedys can test the pie-making machine on her, providing Ginger with more time to form an escape plan.

The chickens eventually build a plane from spare parts, but the Tweedys discover their plot just before they are ready to launch the plane. A struggle ensues during which the pie-making machine is destroyed. An epilogue shows the chickens living in a bird sanctuary where Ginger and Rocky are now a couple.

"Chicken Run" is an adventure comedy that satirizes World War II escape films, particularly "The Great Escape." The film's understatement allows the movie to be funny and touching at the same time. The animated characters are able to evoke the desired emotions in the audience with the smallest of gestures. "Chicken Run" is most notable for its use of stop-motion animation, a technique rarely used in modern films. The filmmakers must change the position of the figures on the set twenty-four times each second, resulting in approximately 118,000 shots for the entire film. This tedious process required over three years of continual production to complete the film.

"Chicken Run" represents an animation technique that contrasts nicely with the style used by Disney, which has been dominant in animated movies for decades. Aardman Animations also contrasts sharply with studios such as Pixar that use newer methods based on computer animation. The style and tone of "Chicken Run" will remind viewers of Nick Park's earlier works, such as the 1989 short film "Creature Comforts." This hilarious and sad film featured animals at the zoo using claymation. Park is also known for his other claymation films starring Wallace and Grommit, which he made during the early 1990s.

Real chickens don't have teeth, but Park's chickens have an abundance of teeth that gives them a permanently confused expression. This dazed look shows how they've been defeated by the unfairness of life. Park's focus on caged animals is especially clear in "Chicken Run." He had a summer job at a chicken-packing factory when he was a teenager and later worked in a slaughterhouse. Park reports that some of his experiences in those jobs provided the inspiration for the pie-making machine.

The chickens in this film comprise many British stereotypes, such as Babs (Jane Horrocks), a silly chicken who is always knitting. Bunty (Imelda Staunton) is the classic bossy housewife and Mac (Lynn Ferguson) is a Scottish inventor. Fowler (Benjamin Whitrow) is a retired officer of the RAF who dislikes Yanks. Nick and Fetcher are Cockney rats who steal everything that isn't nailed down. These characters are especially memorable for anyone raised in rural England. Audience members will find that "Chicken Run" is thoroughly entertaining while advancing the art of stop-motion animation.

Rating: 3 out of 5