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."
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)