Directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park
Review by Matt Heffernan
Nick Park broke to the forefront of stop-motion animation with his 1990 short Creature Comforts, which went on to win an Academy Award, beating his subsequent work, A Grand Day Out. The latter film was the first to feature the character Wallace and his dog Gromit. He made two more shorts with them, and both won him Oscars. Now he has put his skills toward a feature-length film.
Chicken Run takes place on an English egg farm. The chickens are fed up with the treatment they receive from owners Mr. and Mrs. Tweedy (voices of Tony Haygarth and Miranda Richardson), so they try to escape. Ginger (Julia Sawahla, who played Saffron in "Absolutely Fabulous") is the most intelligent chicken on the farm, but her escape plans only get her thrown into solitary confinement -- a dumpster outside the coop.
When things seem their darkest, a visitor flies right into the farm. He's Rocky the Flying Rooster (Mel Gibson), an American expatriate on the run from the circus. Ginger begs him to teach the other chickens how to fly, making it impossible for them to get caught. The training becomes even more crucial when Mrs. Tweedy buys a machine to turn chickens into chicken pies, and decides to convert to a more profitable poultry farm.
As one would expect from Park (who is joined by fellow animator Peter Lord -- Wat's Pig), Chicken Run offers a wonderful combination of deft character animation and exceptional humor. Instead of just making a fleet of indistinguishable chickens (à la Antz), each character has a distinct look and personality. After a while, I just imagined them as fat English ladies cackling about. Better yet is the pie machine, which is reminiscent of the great knitting machine in A Close Shave (woolly sheep go in, naked sheep and sweaters come out). However, this time we are taken inside the pie machine, and there is a very exciting scene that is befitting of Indiana Jones.
Kids should love the adventure and broad humor, but this film is really for the entertainment of the parents. Most of the jokes are very subtle, and very British. When one chicken is asked whether it wants to spend its life laying eggs until it is butchered, she replies, "It's a living." Not many G-rated films find humor in complacency. So, if you want to see a sophisticated comedy, and find something for the kids, Chicken Run is an obvious choice.
Of course, I felt pretty much the same way about The Iron Giant, but that film just couldn't make it at the box office. I hope people start paying more attention to critics (or, at the very least, to me) and learn that there are better family films out there than The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas.
For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Chicken Run (2000)
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings
Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan