UK, 2000. Rated G. 84 minutes.
Cast: (voices) Julia Sawalha, Mel Gibson, Miranda Richardson,
Jane Horrocks, Lynn Ferguson, Imelda Staunton, Benjamin Whitrow, Tony
Haygarth, Phil Daniels, Timothy Spall
|Grade: B+||Review by Carlo Cavagna|
riple Oscar™-winner Nick Park has taken clay-animation, or "claymation," to a new level. His Wallace & Gromit animated shorts, involving an eccentric English inventor and his loyal dog's escapades with murderous sheep-rustling dogs, shifty penguins, and cheese, have become a cult sensation and won two Oscars™ for Best Animated Short this decade, for The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave). In fact, the series' first installment, the hallucinatory A Grand Day Out, is the only one not to win an Oscar™... because it lost to another Nick Park short, Creature Comforts, a spirited condemnation of animal captivity.
Until now, Nick Park and his studio, Aardman Animations (which also earned acclaim for the multi-award winning Peter Gabriel video Sledgehammer), have never attempted a feature film. This is no surprise, given the amount of work involved in claymation, which requires shooting meticulously created clay sculptures one frame at a time, altering them after each shot. With the success of Wallace & Gromit, a full-length theatrical release was inevitable. Park directed and shot his short films on his own, but for Chicken Run he has wisely sought help. He co-directs Chicken Run with Peter Lord (who has produced other Aardman projects) and has enlisted a cinematographer and screenwriters, all under the auspices of Dreamworks Pictures.
As those familiar with other Park stories may expect, Chicken Run is also sympathetic to animal rights. It is a tale of chickens yearning to range free. Ginger (voice of Julia Sawalha–Saffy from Absolutely Fabulous) and her fellow chickens (including AbFab's loopy Bubble, Jane Horrocks, as dim-witted Babs) live on a English chicken farm run like a Nazi concentration camp by the chillingly nefarious Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson–no stranger to AbFab herself) and the henpecked Mr. Tweedy (Tony Haygarth). Chicken Run kicks off in high gear with a depiction of the chickens' numerous unsuccessful escape attempts, which always end in the same way–with Mr. Tweedy throwing Ginger, the mastermind, into the chicken farm's version of solitary confinement, like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. When a cocky American rooster named Rocky (Mel Gibson) literally drops in, he brings new hope for escape to the chickens, who believe he can fly. The chickens' desperation escalates, however, once they discover Mrs. Tweedy's plan to abandon egg production in favor of chicken pot pies.
The Big Picture
Unlike the Wallace and Gromit series, which is as much for adults as it is for children, if not more so, Chicken Run is a children's movie foremost, an animated farce with an easy-to-follow plot and uproarious action sequences, particularly Ginger's close encounter with the pot pie machine. Adults will enjoy it, too, as Chicken Run possesses more intelligence than much of the competing summer fare for grown-ups. There are more than a few parallels to World War Two, most evidenced by the old rooster Fowler (Benjamin Whitrow) who struts around reminiscing about his Royal Air Force days and grumbling about Rocky with the British slogan used to complain about American soldiers living in England during the war–"Overpaid, oversexed, and over here!" Chicken Run's satirical touches and movie references ranging from The Great Escape to Star Trek are enough to keep adults mentally occupied even during repeat viewings. There are so many movie references that one half expects Gibson to declare (as Braveheart's William Wallace), "Every chicken dies! Not every chicken truly lives!"
There are no characters as memorable as Wallace or Gromit in Chicken Run, and the film drags just a tad in the middle, but these are forgivable shortcomings when the material is so hilarious. There is a scene in which a chicken gets the axe offscreen, but other than that, Chicken Run is wholly appropriate for young children, and parents yearning for a respite from sloppily-animated drivel featuring an annoying yellow Japanese dog, or whatever the heck Pikachu is, are particularly encouraged to go. You'll likely have to sit through Pokemon or Rugrats trailers before the movie starts anyway, which should make you appreciate Chicken Run's well-crafted, sophisticated creativity all the more.
© June 2000 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2000 DreamWorks LLC, Aardman Chicken Run and Pathé.
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