Nov 6, 2015

[Movies] Chicken Run (2000)

I'm a big fan of Aardman Animations - the won me over long ago with their Wallace and Gromit features and now I'm always keen on seeing what is next to come out from their studios. And of course these days we know that there's more to the studio than Wallace and Gromit, however there was that point in time when the transition to introducing new stories and new potential franchises was rather tricky.

Enter Chicken Run, which was Aardman's first feature-length film. It involved a completely different world of sorts since we're talking about anthropomorphic chickens instead of a man and his dog, but there were still some similarities. Aardman seemed determine to create a distinct visual style for their efforts as best seen in the eyes and maybe the way they animate their characters.

I was pretty excited about this movie when it first came out, but admittedly it took me a while to fully wrap my head around the fact that this was not a story that involved their main heroes of sorts. Instead we had a chicken and surprising voice casting decisions for these chickens and it all continues from there.

Synopsis: Chicken Run is a 2000 stop-motion animated comedy movie directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park. The screenplay had been written by Karey Kirkpatrick and the movie had been jointly financed by Dreamworks Productions and Pathé.

In Yorkshire we meet Mr. and Mrs, Tweedy (Tony Haygarth and Miranda Richardson respectively), a couple who struggle to keep afloat with their chicken farm business. They run a very tight ship and the farm is depicted almost like a prison with rather stringent security measures in place and even two vicious dogs patrolling the area. Given how the chickens have been producing fewer and fewer eggs, Mrs. Tweedy decides that the best thing that they can do is to shift from eggs to chicken pot pies and even orders a massive machine that will create the pies automatically.

Ginger (Julia Sawalha) is our protagonist and one of the chickens at this farm.  She's been pretty determined to find a way to escape from the farm and relies on contraband materials from two rats named Nick (Timothy Spall) and Fetcher (Phil Daniels), but her various escape attempts tend to fail. The atmosphere at the farm changes when Ginger sees a Rhode Island Red rooster seemingly fly over the fence and into the farm. The rooster is Rocky (Mel Gibson) and Ginger is convinced that he somehow knows how to fly and hopes to get him to teach her fellow hens how to do this once his wounds heal. But will they be able to master flight before the chicken pot pie machine is delivered and ready to process the residents of the farm?

Now the animation is something to talk about on its own before you can even dive into the movie. As much as it was a little weird to see a bunch of chickens with the somewhat iconic Aardman eyes, for the most part they made for great visual humor in quite a visually impressive manner. There's a neatness to Aardman's animation efforts that preserves the wonder of stop-motion without having things appear too jerky or inconsistent. And I really appreciate how much they probably had to scale up their production facilities in order to come up with a full-length movie.

The voices were mostly an interesting mix of the usual British personalities that give Aardman movies such character. And thus the decision to include a voice like Mel Gibson in a lead role felt more like weird audience draw effort and not something that was done with the movie's best interests at heart. Sure, it was a pretty good performance and his character did fit the story well enough. But I still feel we could have been better with a character who didn't have to feel so foreign among the other chickens.

The decision to frame this movie as a sort of prison escape caper was actually quite brilliant and nicely gave opportunities to reference live-action movies with the same message and story format. But at the same time, the movie also added a brilliant comedic twist through its effective use of slapstick and other visual humor that we don't always see anymore in movies in general. Slapstick may be considered to be a somewhat lower form of humor at times, but the way things were managed here combined with the unique medium of stop-motion animation and the end result was just hilarious.

This doesn't meant the writing wasn't fun either. There was a lot of great banter than was only enhanced by the visual humor inherent in the character design that all made things that much better. I still laugh when I repeat certain sequences, especially when you get to the big finale at the end.

Chicken Run was an unusual first effort for Aardman Animation to break into the big movie business but one that ultimately paid off. It's a fun movie that has something for everyone, provided you already have an appreciation for humor from the other side of the pond, as it were. Thus I happily rate the movie as 4 flying chickens out of a possible 5.

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