Chicken Run (2000)

Posted by on Dec 19, 2011 in Fun With Animals | 0 comments

chickenrun2

Disclaimer: Farmers do not take their chickens on holiday.

As the first feature film by Peter Lord and Nick Park, the bigwigs at Aardman Animations who brought us Wallace and Gromit, this film is a clever blend of American World War II prison camp flicks and British poultry.

This time the stop-motion specialists bring us to a Yorkshire egg farm circa 1950s. Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) runs the humble farm like an evil dictator, cutting the heads off of hens that fail to produce eggs regularly. While most of the chickens remain oblivious to their purpose – one even says “Ooooh, chicken feed! My favorite.” – ambitious Ginger (Julia Sawalha) devises loads of ingenious plots to help everyone escape and discover what lies outside the barbed-wire fence.

“So laying eggs all your life and then getting plucked, stuffed, and roasted is good enough for you, is it?” Ginger asks.

“It’s a living,” responds Babs (Jane Horrocks), a plump hen that always seems to be knitting.

After dozens of unsuccessful chickenrun3attempts, which result with her spending days in a box (a la Cool Hand Luke), Ginger is running out of ideas as Mrs. Tweedy begins a diabolical new scheme for the future of the farm. When hope is all but lost, Ginger spots a cocky American rooster (Mel Gibson) flying over the farm. He accidentally falls within the fence, injuring his wing, and the hens count on him to teach them how to “fly the coop.”

The farm itself resembles a prison camp and contains loads of references to Stalag 17 and The Great Escape, with their bunks including a myriad of trap doors, hiding places, and false boards. The characters are hilarious stereotypes of such films, including a mastermind, calculating nerd, senile former officer, and two comical rats (Timothy Spall and Phil Daniels), who provide Ginger with the trinkets needed to escape.

Unlike most prison camp films, in which we know they will successfully escape, we aren’t merely strung along wondering how they will accomplish the feat. That aspect is tertiary, at best. Instead, we grow fascinated with the characters and their interactions with each other. Despite the central characters being animated birds, there are complicated “human” relationships at work, from the hostile love between Rocky and Ginger to the rivalry between the young American Rocky and old Brit rivalry Fowler.

The training sequences and attempts provide the most comic relief to an otherwise dark plot and have me in stitches every time – especially those smart-mouthed rats in the peanut gallery. The claymation wizards provide suspenseful action sequences, too, including the anticipated escape and a run-in with a pot pie machine. The latter is an obvious homage to Indiana Jones as the characters flee from gigantic gears (not boulders) and sneak under a closing door with just enough time to snatch a hat (not a fedora).

While it’s not as brilliant as their Wallace and Gromit or Creature Comforts shorts, Chicken Run remains a wonderfully entertaining children’s film that’s as laugh-out-loud hilarious as it is edge-of-your-seat exhilarating.

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