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Chicken Run

Review by Jason Morrison

Remember the last time you saw a "family" film? Whoever thought to group every mostly non-offensive, kid-friendly, 3-year-old-attention-holding film under the genre of "family" must have forgotten that most families include at least one adult in the mix. An adult who doesn't know the difference between Pikachu and Pokemon, isn't captivated by pretty colors and would rather choke than see those Olsen twins in one more caper.

Heck, the bulk of "family" entertainment is insulting to most elementary schoolers. Movies constantly underestimate kids and what they'd like to see. But everyone once and a while, a family film comes out that really is worth being dragged to. Chicken Run is definitely one of them.

Written and directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park, the same pair behind the Oscar-winning "Wallace & Gromit" series, Chicken Run follows the exploits of the residents of a chicken farm strikingly similar to a World War II prison camp. Conditions are harsh, barbed wire and dogs guard the perimeter, and any hen unable to produce eggs for the week finds herself dinner the next day. Ginger (voiced by Julia Sawalha), an enterprising young chicken, plots to escape the farm and make it to the grassy fields beyond, though she's not sure how. With the help of the nerdy Scottish hen Mac (Lynn Ferguson), she attempts-and fails-a myriad of ingenious plans to escape. Each time she is caught by Tweedy (Tony Haygarth), the farmer, and thrown into solitary confinement.

Just when all seems lost, Ginger witnesses the impossible- a rooster flying through the air lands in the middle of their coop. Could he be their ticket out? The daredevil turns out to be an American named Rocky (Mel Gibson) who has just escaped, more or less, from the circus. In exchange for hiding him, he promises to teach the girls how to fly and get them all out of there.

There's just one problem-Rocky can't fly. At the circus, he was the human cannonball- that is, chicken cannonball- and no amount of double talk or aerobics will ever actually get any of the chickens out of there. What's worse, Mrs. Tweedy, tired of eking out small profits selling eggs, has bought a machine that will turn the chickens into pies. Ginger will be the first to go unless Rocky can figure out a way to get her out and the rest of the hen house will follow suit if they don't work together to escape.

Though the premise sounds silly and claymation is hardly fit for Schindler's List, the dreary visuals and sense of mortality in Chicken Run make it hard to take at least a little seriously. You can't help but pull for Ginger and the group to make it out before one more becomes someone's leftovers. Sure, it's a comedy, but it never degenerates into blithering idiot mode or steps awkwardly into Broadway musical like so many Disney films and Disney-imitators.

Lord and Park's extremely Britishy style is delightful. The movie wouldn't have been half as good without the English accents, deadpan humor and, well, teeth. Like Wallace and Gromit, the chickens and the Tweedys have simple but wonderfully expressive faces with high foreheads and mouths full of teeth. As for the writing, it's the little things that matter, like Mr. Tweedy continually catching the chickens planning escapes and building devices and having to say to himself, "it's all in my head." They never let up-no matter what's going on, there's always an odd line to catch or nutty concept to consider. And when the action gets going, it's more imaginative than most of what goes into a summer blockbuster.

Luckily, Chicken Run has done very brisk business at the box office. Like the breakaway success of Toy Story, this should guarantee we see more from Lord and Park and not just three more Digimon movies. As much as people complain about the dearth of good films in the theaters, people don't often give good animated features enough of a chance (and enough of their ticket money) to make studios want to make intelligent films. The Iron Giant, for example, all but flopped, even though it's exactly what parents, kids, and pundits keep asking for.

Chicken Run, though, has managed to prove itself to both audiences and the mighty dollar. If you have a free evening, go ahead and vote for it with your $6.50. You won't regret it.


(Out of five)

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