Chicken Run (2000)

CHICKEN RUN is the year's best movie, says me, an explosively cre-
ative, all-ages appealing, cheerfully dark and Very British (VB) 
animated update of, well, STALAG 17.  (World War II POW-inspired 
humor in a major studio summer release?  Whoda thunk?)  The "clay-
mation" feature is the first full-length film from Nick Park's A-
ardman Animation, creators of the Oscar-winning (and similarly an-
imated) Wallace and Gromit shorts.  (What, you've never seen Wal-
lace and Gromit before!?  Stop reading right now, run to your fav-
orite video store, and rent THE WRONG TROUSERS and A CLOSE SHAVE.  
Two tapes.  Maybe an hour, tops.  You'll life will be changed for-
ever.)  In this fowl English feature, Mel Gibson stars as the 
voice of "Rocky the Flying Rooster" (and, gasp, Yank) who drops 
out of the sky in seeming answer to the prayers of Ginger (voiced 
by television actress Julia Sawalha), a plucky hen who dreams of a 
better place than a barbed wire-ringed, guard dog-patrolled chick-
en farm.  (She's also the most motivated cluck, always leading the 
newest hatched-- and invariably egg-laying-- escape plan.)  So 
when this seemingly skilled cock-of-the-walk lands in her lap, she 
pressures him into teaching her birds to fly.  Hilarity ensues as 
the rotund team tries to overcome gravity via springboard, roof-
top, and, in one wonderfully wild sequence complete with pun-hur-
tling rodent spectators, elastic band behind wheeled cart.  (The  
hen with thick glasses and thicker Scottish accent is the engineer 
in the group.  She's also the source of a "Star Trek" reference 
requesting "more power."  Aye.)  Miranda Richardson and Tony Hay-
garth voice the villains-- the order-barking farm owner Mrs. Twe-
edy and her hen-pecked (ha!) handyman husband.  The plot has Mrs. 
T. adopting a new business plan, that sees the delivery of an e-
normous, sinister-looking machine as well as her abrupt instruc-
tions to "fatten the birds up."  (Love the greasy detail on the 
undercarriage of the delivery lorry...)  Meanwhile, Rocky keeps 
getting egg on his face trying to get the girls airborne.  Is *he* 
everything he's cracked up to be?  And is something cooking betwe-
en him and Ginger?  (Do chickens kiss?  Or just give each other... 

The script, by Karey Kirkpatrick and Jack Rosenthalm, scratches 
familiar ground for the first hour.  Escape attempts; heroic res-
cues; boy/girl, er, rooster/hen banter; we've seen this stuff 
before, though never in Nick Park style.  Never with stop-motion, 
clay-sculpted figures bearing the trademark buck teeth, big eyes, 
and those wonderfully droopy smiles.  Plus, as the characters 
*are* chicken-sized, the accompanying props provide a parade of a-
musingly utilized everyday objects.  (Like the egg beater-turned-
dirt borer in the opening montage-- a montage, I'll add, that dis-
plays more creatively that most summer movies show in their *en-
tirety*.)  Perhaps the biggest surprise, at least for Aardman new-
comers, is the amount of restraint displayed by Park and co-direc-
tor Peter Lord.  This is an exceptionally understated movie that 
relies more on droll wit than showy set pieces.  (Brit-born kid-
dies beware:  the characters, notable the aforementioned wise-
cracking rats, say the word "bum" a couple times.)  For the fin-
ale, the filmmakers let loose.  As in the earlier W&G shorts, all 
stops are pulled out for the big finish.  These ingenious (and of-
ten laws of physics-defying) sequences are also the chief strength 
of the claymation medium:  the ability to show something we've 
never seen before.  In the 1995 Academy Award for Best Animated 
Short Film-winning A CLOSE SHAVE, for example, sheep were stacked 
five-high on a moving motorcycle.  Here, the most outrageously 
memorably moments involve the final solution of forty-some very 
desperate chickens to take to the air.  And it's a stitch.  You'll 
laugh, you'll smile, and you'll probably never see anything like 
it again.  At least until Mr. Park makes another movie.  Chute.  
(Rated "G"/85 min.)

Grade: A

Copyright 2000 by Michael J. Legeros
Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted to triangle.movies in MOVIE HELL: Very Fowl

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Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros -Movie Hell™ is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros