CHICKEN RUN (2000) ***** movie review by COOP

Posted on May 14th, 2008
Posted on May 14th, 2008

As a kid, one film that I fondly remember seeing was “Clash of the Titans” back in 1981. I remembered wondering how they made those scary-looking monsters look alive. It was years before I leaned it was a technique called “claymation”, the art of moving a clay figure a fraction for every film frame in order to achieve the illusion of motion. The idea of “claymation” chickens sounds funny enough, but how good can it be? It could be one of the best movies of the year.

Stop-motion or “claymation” animation began with the innovative genius of Ray Harryhausen. His work on the original “Mighty Joe Young”, “Jason and the Argonauts”, “Clash of the Titans” and countless others created a renaissance of classic monster movies in Hollywood. I had the pleasure of hearing Harryhausen speak at my film school graduation last year and afterwards, I realized his massive contribution to film. One of those contributions is the influence his work had on the creators of “Chicken Run”. As most of Hollywood studios rely on cartoon and computer animation to make their rated “G” and “PG” films, it’s refreshing to see Aardman Studios taking a more artistic and classic approach to creating a feature animated film like “Chicken Run”.

The plot is simply the same as “The Great Escape”, except this time with chickens in place of Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson. A clever hen named Ginger (voiced by Julia Sawahla) tries desperately to get herself and her fellow sisters out of their egg farm (prison camp) in England. With each failed try, she finds herself closer to becoming a Sunday dinner. Along comes a “flying” American rooster named Rocky (voiced by Mel Gibson) who escaped his sideshow act in a travelling circus. Although his wing is injured, he agrees to teach the hens how to fly and escape. However, when the farm’s greedy owner, Mrs. Beedy (voiced by Miranda Richardson) purchases a massive chicken pie-making machine, the chickens realize that they must all get out together or “die frying”.

All of the voice-over actors did a great job, but that’s only part of the performance. The real credit should go to the Aardman creators who took lumps of colored clay and turned them into sentient beings. They sculpted every expression with such care and such preciseness that you could feel the emotion and personality of each character. The work was stunning and made the computer generated imagery in “Toy Story” seem superficial. The writing proved itself to be equally excellent, providing hearts and souls to animals and people alike.

The characters provided for some amazingly hilarious moments and running gags. One includes the farmer Mr. Beedy who is convinced that the chickens are organized and plotting against him. Another is brought about by two dim and sleazy rats that provide supplies to the chickens, then make fun of their failed efforts to escape. Perhaps the most well done and entertaining sequence in the film involves a rescue inside the deadly pie-making machine.

“Chicken Run” is Peter Lord and Nick Park’s first feature-length claymation film. Their previous work include the first three, Academy Award-Winning “Wallace and Gromit” animated shorts. Using the same animation technique, “Wallace and Gromit” paved the way for “Chicken Run” and proved that claymation still has its place in filmmaking.

This rated G film is truly for all ages. Parents will love it along with their kids and I saw many a young couple coming out of the theater with smiles on their faces. If you see one film this summer, let it be “Chicken Run”. By the way, don’t be surprised if you decide to pass on that chicken sandwich for dinner. This movie will likely cause you to sympathize with these poor critters. With the exception of “My Dog Skip”, this is the best movie I’ve seen this year. Expect to see it up for some awards.

Scale of 1-5:

Most refreshing aspect of the film:
The solid, flawless and mature story. “Chicken Run” is so well written that it is an anomaly in today’s Hollywood summer line up. Although it is a British-made film, it follows the traditional Hollywood format of the “prison escape” genre perfectly. It certainly wasn’t “dumbed-down” with potty humor and crude jokes in order to entertain the kids. I imagine that the writers had plenty of time to work out the script problems considering the “claymation process” is an extremely timely process.

Biggest gripe:
None except for the fact that some of the youngest of children might not appreciate the darker subject matter. One of the first scenes includes the (implied) beheading of a chicken, not to mention the threat of death that looms over the protagonists. Also, the younger kids might not understand some of the British humor or dialects,… but these are very small potatoes and should not in any way discourage parents from bringing their wee ones. Even if they don’t understand, at the very least they will be delighted by the antics of the funny-looking chickens.

Biggest surprise:
The influence that the “Wallace and Gromit” cartoons had on this feature. The “Wallace and Gromit” shorts (including: “A Grand Day Out”, “The Wrong Trousers” and “A Close Shave”) showcase the adventures of an inventive English bachelor and his genius dog. Although they are short cartoons and not feature-length films, I highly recommend renting and seeing these remarkable award winners. The creators have even announced that their next project will be a “Wallace and Gromit” feature, which is certainly something for everyone to look forward to.

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