|Director:||Peter Lord, Nick Park|
There were a lot of disappointments in the 2000 summer movie season, but Chicken Run wasn’t one of them. Made by Aardman Animations, which produced the Oscar-winning Wallace & Gromit shorts, this is a dazzling stop-motion animation film that is both deftly funny and surprisingly touching. The concept is simple: The Great Escape—with chickens. But directors Peter Lord and Nick Park take it much further than that (and remember: there’s a whole generation out there that has no idea who Steve McQueen is). Julia Sawalha voices Ginger, a plucky English…
There were a lot of disappointments in the 2000 summer movie season, but Chicken Run wasn’t one of them. Made by Aardman Animations, which produced the Oscar-winning Wallace & Gromit shorts, this is a dazzling stop-motion animation film that is both deftly funny and surprisingly touching. The concept is simple: The Great Escape—with chickens. But directors Peter Lord and Nick Park take it much further than that (and remember: there’s a whole generation out there that has no idea who Steve McQueen is). Julia Sawalha voices Ginger, a plucky English hen who has been trying to escape from Tweedy’s chicken farm, where the vicious Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) fries up any chicken who doesn’t produce enough eggs. When egg profits slump, Mrs. Tweedy decides to turn her farm into a chicken-pie factory, giving new urgency to Ginger’s plan. Enter Rocky the Flying Rooster (Mel Gibson), a brash American who has escaped from a circus and promises to teach the chickens to fly to safety. The film is filled with innumerable visual touches and the animation has a tactile quality that makes you want to reach out and touch these funny fowl. Above all, it’s played with intelligence, wit, and heart—a rare combination in any film. While Chicken Run is being marketed to a youth audience, it truly is a family film that operates on both a child and an adult level. It would be a shame if grownups skipped it because they thought it was strictly for kids. —Marshall Fine
As warming as a nice cup of tea on a cloudy day, Chicken Run is that charming singularity, a commercially successful British family movie that has near-universal appeal without compromising its inherent British pluckiness (that will be the first and last poultry-pun in this review). It invites us into the Plasticine-world of Tweedy’s farm, a far-from-free-range egg factory ruled with an axe of iron by greedy Mrs.Tweedy. One intrepid chicken, Ginger (voiced by Julia Sawalha) sets her sights on breaking out the whole flock, a cast of beautifully individuated chicken characters including ditsy Babs (voiced by Jane Horrocks), matronly Bunty (Imelda Staunton) and practical-minded Mac (Lynn Ferguson). Each effort is thwarted, and Ginger repeatedly reaps a spell in the coal bunker for her troubles, prompting the first of many allusions to The Great Escape, one of several World War II films name-checked throughout. (Grown-ups will have a ball playing Spot-the-Allusion Game here.) When an American rooster named Rocky (Mel Gibson) literally drops in from the air, the hens are set all a-flutter with excitement thinking he’ll help teach them to fly away at last. But Rocky is not all he seems.
Although the action sags just a fraction around the 40-minute mark, it’s the set pieces that really lift this into the realm of cartoon genius: the montage of inept flying attempts, Rocky and Ginger’s narrow escape from Mrs Tweedy’s new pie machine (an horrific contraption of chomping steel and industrial menace) and the magnificent, soaring climax. Despite the fact British animators (such as the directors, Nick Park and Peter Lord, themselves) regularly scoop Oscars for their short films, our record in full-feature length cartoons has been scrappy at best. There have been a few highlights—Animal Farm (1955), The Yellow Submarine (1968), Watership Down (1978)—and, er, that’s about it really, unless you count The Magic Roundabout: Dougal and the Blue Cat. ChickenRun, made by the Aardman production house who produced the delightful Wallace and Gromit shorts among many other treats, has proved that Britain can compete with the most calculated, merchandised and screen-tested Disney production and win. —Leslie Felperin
Barnes and Noble
A coop full of tender chickens attempt to fly for freedom in the newest claymation creation from Nick Park and Peter Lord, whose U.K.-based Aardman Animations is known for its wildly popular Wallace & Gromit series. After several unsuccessful attempts to escape the chicken farm of vicious Mrs. Tweedy (voiced by Miranda Richardson), a snappy hen named Ginger (Julia Sawalha) thinks she finds the answer to her prayers in the form of a Yankee Doodle Dandy named Rocky (Mel Gibson), who can supposedly fly. But can the charming rooster save the hens from their imminent doom—being diced for pot pies? Intelligent execution of a witty story makes this farmhouse allegory vastly entertaining, and it’s enhanced all the more by a colorful cast of characters and clever references to films like The Great Escape. Simultaneously humorous and touching, Chicken Run’s visual and technical magic is wholly cinematic in scope, a perfect example of the animation niche Aardman has carved for itself. Although not always the fun-filled children’s romp you would expect—several allusions to the tragedies of World War II are made—Chicken Run still strikes home on many levels. And after only one viewing, you may think twice before eating another chicken pot pie. Patricia Kim O’Cone
With a film as wildly, intelligently entertaining as Chicken Run, the score needs to be something special just to keep pace. Not a problem, then, for John Powell and Harry Gregson-Williams, a pair who have worked (together and separately) on other animated films (The Tigger Movie, Antz) and action films (Enemy of the State, Face/Off)--which has prepared them well for a film in which a gaggle of chickens re-enact The Great Escape. Powell and Gregson-Williams's score is perfectly suited to the action on screen: classic…