Chicken Run

An Orwellian scenario, superb claymation, and a witty script makes Chicken Run one of the best movies out this summer (2000).

A bunch of chickens imprisoned in a coop want to escape. Led by the plucky Ginger (voiced by Julia Sawalha), the chickens must get out before Mr. and Mrs. Tweedy (Tony Haygarth and Miranda Richardson) turn them into chicken pies (a decision made after profits from selling eggs turn out to be inadequate for the missus). Ginger is aided in her efforts by Fowler (Benjamin Whitrow), who once flew with the RAF (Royal Air Force), and Mac (Lynn Ferguson), who may just as well be called "Scotty". But their efforts don't bear much fruition until a cocky American, Rocky the Flying Rooster (Mel Gibson), unexpectedly lands in the coop after escaping from the circus. Ginger sees Rocky's arrival as a means of escape, but her hope gives Rocky's abilities more credit than they're due.

There's a bit of Wallace and Gromit here (which was also created by co-director Nick Park), partly having to do with the various sorts of contraptions observed in the film, from the pie-making machine to the working aircraft with flapping wings. The movie sets the challenge the chickens must overcome (and consequently, the dark tone of the film) in the first few minutes. These showcase Ginger's initial attempts to escape (from burrowing out using a spoon to drilling a tunnel using an egg beater), her being thrown in a coal bin as punishment when caught by Mr. Tweedy, and the execution of one of her friends who failed to meet her egg quota. All these illustrate the dire nature of their situation, and once this is done, we know the movie will end with their great escape. The movie then wisely focuses on character development and revealing to us the trials and tribulations the chickens must overcome before they are finally free.

A naive hen, Babs (Jane Horrocks), who serves as a counterpoint to Ginger's desire to feel the grass under her feet, and two rodents, Fletcher (Phil Daniel) and Nick (Timothy Spall) who have an unusual passion for chicken eggs, make for some sharp and humourous moments (thanks to a clever screenplay by Karey Kirkpatric). There are many film references, including The Great Escape, Stalag 17, Indiana Jones, Star Trek, Mission: Impossible (mostly in the previews) and many double entendres, which are good for a few thought-provoking laughs.

The painstaking animation, done by moving clay models in miniscule amounts over time, comes off as a labour of love. The set design is incredible: from the chicken coop to the pie-making machine, Park and Peter Lord (who also co-directs) transport us to a world that not only goes beyond our reality but also the realm of traditional animation. Like with many other good animations, the voices, most of them British, are what make Chicken Run work so well. Every single voice is executed perfectly. I particularly liked the fact that the strongest character was female and Julia Sawalha pulls off a Ginger who deserves respect and admiration.

Chicken Run is highly endearing, consistently attractive, and incredibly refreshing. While there's not one particular part in the film that had me rolling with laughter, I was constantly amused and at the end, left the theatre filled with euphoria.

Movie ramblings || Ram Samudrala ||