The chickens at the Tweedy Chicken Farm are up to something in Chicken Run, the wonderful new film from the Academy Award winning creators of Wallace and Gromit. Peter Lord and Nick Park of Aardman Studios bring their trademark dry British wit and stunningly realistic models to life again, in a tribute to those old prison break movies (for instance, the 17 on the coop refers to Stalag 17). Barbwire surrounds the farm, and Mr. Tweedy patrols with flashlights and dogs at night. Making this film is a gamble, since the public usually associates claymation and the like with Gumby or The California Raisins, but those are ages behind Chicken Run. Figures move smoothly, and the attention to detail is amazing. In some scenes, over ten chickens move independently, all with different motions.
Mr. Tweedy (Tony Haygarth) is the only one who notices the chickens. Every night, he catches Ginger (Julia Sawalha, Absolutely Fabulous) trying to escape. She succeeds, but wants every chicken to escape with her. The other chickens are not as bright as Ginger, especially Babs (Jane Horrocks, Little Voice), always knitting and absent of any sort of brain. Along comes Rocky (Mel Gibson, The Million Dollar Hotel, The Patriot), an American rooster who supposedly can fly. Ginger resolves to get Rocky to teach all of them how to fly. What Ginger doesn't know is that Rocky cannot really fly, he is actually a circus chicken. Meanwhile, Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson, Sleepy Hollow, The Miracle Maker), noticing the declining profits of selling eggs, decides to begin selling chicken pies. This means that Babs and all her friends are now in mortal danger.
It's a fairly simple story by Aardman and Karey Kirkpatrick (James and the Giant Peach) that succeeds on all levels. First, the basic concept is ludicrous. Chickens trying to escape? There are echoes here of the last Wallace and Gromit adventure, A Close Shave. Chicken Run is simple enough for children to follow and enjoy without boring adults. The script is replete with puns (Rocky is the lone free ranger) and jokes that are actually funny. Park and Lord chose to keep the British slang and idioms, which, when taken in context with the movie, make perfect sense. All of the principle actors (except for Gibson) are British. This gives Chicken Run a distinctly foreign feel to it, something new and unique in today's market. The characters are also smart. A lot of thought went into developing Rocky and Ginger's personalities. They think, make decisions, and grow as, um, chickens. There are a number of other chickens, all of which look and act differently.
But it is Park and Lord's wonderful imaginations that drive Chicken Run. With their exaggerated overbites and ridiculously out-of-proportion bodies, each character is prime for easily conveying emotion. Mrs. Tweedy is a haughty, domineering witch, and the mere movement of her eyeballs and eyelids expresses more than some actual actors. It was a pleasure stepping into their world and watching genius at work. Next up for Dreamworks and Aardman Studios, The Tortoise and the Hare, and then, what everyone is waiting for, a Wallace and Gromit full-length movie. Pass the cheese and crackers.
|Haro Rates It: Really Good.|
|1 hour, 35 minutes, Rated G.|
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