Chicken Run
review by Carrie Gorringe, 23 June 2000

For those who tend to associate animated films exclusively with the Disney studios (and with its financial reach and talent base, it's an easy association to make), the name of Aardman Animations might more likely to conjure up images of anteaters than of some of the most innovative animation to emerge in the last twenty years.  For just about that length of time, Aardman has been arguably the most singular force, aside from Will Vinton and his California Raisin commercials, in promoting the sorely-neglected genre of clay animation. (the term "claymation" has been copyrighted by Vinton, and therefore won't be used here to describe Aardman's output).  And, yes, you’ve definitely seen some of the studio’s eye-popping output, even if nothing comes immediately to mind: Peter Gabriel's ground-breaking video for "Sledgehammer" and Oscar-winning Wallace-and-Gromit outings such as A Grand Day Out (1992) and The Wrong Trousers (1993) (both directed by Park and co-produced by Lord) are among the best-known.  The real strength of Aardman has been its ability to meld the strengths of clay animation – namely, its retention of its status as a handicraft and the characters three-dimensionality, which is always present and not having to be the result of audience assumptions – along with subtly witty scripts.  By these criteria, Chicken Run can be described, with no exaggeration, as the zenith of Park and Lord’s collaborations to date.

The film opens on a lugubriously lit, run-down farm belonging to the evil Mrs. Tweedy (Richardson) and her milquetoast husband (Haygarth), and, for its inmates, life here is nothing like the zany, bucolic world of The Egg and I.  The chickens are obliged to undergo the arbitrary cruelty of a daily "selection" and those who have not met their egg-production quota are sent to the chopping block and from there to the Tweedy's dining-room table.  The sinister historical analogy is deliberate; for these chickens, Tweedy's Farm is a death camp.  One way or another, they are not getting out alive (can you tell that co-director Park spent two summers on the line in a chicken-processing plant?).  Just as Mrs. Tweedy has decided to liquidate the camp –- sorry, I mean the farm --  in the name of higher profits (having discovered that there is more money in pot pies than in eggs), along flies Rocky the Rooster, whose braggadocio-laced tales of daring in the air turn him into the Great Feathered Hope.  The not-too-bashful bantam promises to help the chickens learn to fly.  It’s an unlikely possibility, since their exaggerated endomorphic shapes and the idea of any of them taking flight are mutually exclusive.  Only Ginger (Sawalha), the chickens' de facto leader, and the Colonel Blimp-like Fowler (Whitrow) see through his transparently phony training regimen. There are two questions by the film's mid-point:  can Ginger keep Mrs. Tweedy's porta-pot pie factory out of commission long enough to get the remainder of her friends to safety, and can she resist Rocky's charms while doing so?

Chicken Run is an effortlessly enjoyable film.  There's historical quotation for the film buffs:  the plot line consists of a broad parody of the prison-camp-escape film (think of The Great Escape and Stalag 17:  the screenwriters throw out a direct quotation from Billy Wilder's film between Mr. Tweedy and the chicken ringleader named Ginger at the beginning just to set the ironic tone).  As mentioned earlier, the animation is top-notch.  The actors are having a ball with their characters.  There are some intense moments, but very few, and the ending, suffused with color and optimism, is a worthwhile payoff.  The only thing left to say is this:  just go and see Chicken Run  -- otherwise you’ll feel like a cluck.

Directed by:
Peter Lord
Nick Park

Starring the 
Voices of:

Mel Gibson
Julia Sawalha
Miranda Richardson
Phil Daniels
Lynn Ferguson
Tony Haygarth
Jane Horrocks
Imelda Staunton
Benjamin Whitrow

Written by:
Karey Kirkpatrick

Based on the 
Story by:
Peter Lord
Nick Park




  Copyright © 1996-2005 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.