Should I Watch..? 'Chicken Run'
What's the big deal?
Chicken Run is a spot-motion animation comedy film released in 2000 and is the debut feature film from Aardman Animation, the creators of the ever-popular Wallace and Gromit. The film tells the story of a group of chickens desperately attempting to escape their prison-like farm before they all meet their end as the filling for chicken pies. The film stars the vocal talents of Julia Sawalha, Mel Gibson, Miranda Richardson, Tony Haygarth and Timothy Spall while the film itself was co-directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park. The film still holds the record for the highest earning stop-animation in history (at time of writing) with global earnings of more than $224 million and it received universal acclaim from critics when it was released. A sequel was announced in 2018 with filming starting the following year but a release date has yet to be confirmed.
What's it about?
Life for the chickens on Tweedy's Farm is not a good one. Resembling a prisoner of war camp, the chickens are surrounded by barb wire and failure to produce any eggs results in a quick and violent beheading. Over time, the farm's owner Mrs Tweedy - a cruel and bullying Yorkshire woman - decides that the farm would be more profitable if it began producing chicken pies instead of eggs and she charges her hen-pecked and dim-witted husband to construct a machine for producing the pies. For Ginger, the unofficial leader of the flock, this only hastens her desire to escape the farm despite frequent capture by Mr Tweedy and his dogs.
One evening, Ginger is astonished to find a rooster called Rocky fly into the coop and this gives her an idea - get Rocky to teach the chickens how to fly and they can easily escape. However, there are still some obstacles to overcome - the rest of the flock are hopelessly out of shape thanks to getting overfed, Mr Tweedy still has his beady eyes on Ginger and there's the small matter of the charming Rocky distracting the chickens while trying to cover up a dark secret of his own...
Peter Lord & Nick Park
Release Date (UK)
30th June, 2000
What's to like?
Assuming you are familiar with Wallace and Gromit through their award-winning short films or their own movie The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, you will exactly what to expect from Chicken Run. The standard of animation is incredible with each character in the film having their own personality that shines through and thanks to the painstaking level of detail in the movie, comic timing is just faultless. The movie is genuinely funny although there is a obvious need to keep things family-friendly and this is a film viewers of any age will enjoy. This movie has an innate charm that just sweeps you up and before you know it, you're caught up rooting for these lovable good guys and girls and booing the baddies like you're at a pantomime.
The vocal talents of the cast are also seamlessly integrated into the illusion but Gibson is probably the weakest of the performers, given that he is essentially playing up to his Hollywood golden boy-image - well, at the time anyway. But it's the animation that truly blows you away and there is one scene in particular that is simply awe-inspiring. As Ginger wanders through the chicken shed, almost every character is busy beavering away in the background and there is so much going on that you can't believe how much effort must have gone into such shenanigans. And despite its age, it also stacks up well against its later stablemates like Flushed Away and Early Man.
- The film was so well received that it received a major push to be nominated for Best Film at that year's Academy Awards. Although it ultimately failed, the film's popularity among Academy members led to the creation of the Best Animated Feature Film at the 2002 ceremony which was first won by Shrek.
- Each second of film is made up of 24 seperate photos of the various characters being manipulated to simulate movement. Over the course of a whole week, they had enough images for a minute's worth of movie footage. During production, 30 sets were used with around 80 animators working on the film.
- The film pays several homages to The Great Escape including Ginger bouncing a ball against the wall when in solitary confinement and the trolley the chickens are seen using in the tunnels beneath their sheds.
- The rat Nick's name is a double inside joke - not only was he named after Nick Park but 'nick' is also British slang for stealing which Nick the rat is often guilty of.
What's not to like?
Unfortunately, stop-motion animation does have its flaws such as any significant amount of liquid which doesn't look as gorgeous as the rest of the film. And as I hinted at above, the film's humour does tend towards the younger end of the spectrum although adults will be amused by the various references, in-jokes and sight gags going on in the background. Frankly, even the sight of innocent Babs constantly knitting is somehow hilarious and technically impressive as well. The other problem it has is more to do with the films that followed it - later films have the benefit of CG assistance which obviously allows greater scope in terms of what the films can show. This is best demonstrated in the aquatic adventure The Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists! where the sea looks much better than the mud and gravy on display in Chicken Run.
But the simple truth is that this is still a fantastic family movie for viewers of all ages to enjoy. There's nothing offensive or questionable - it's a defiantly clean piece of escapist fun that manages to successfully juggle a variety of genres and influences. The fact that no other stop-motion animation picture has come close in terms of global earnings (the next best picture is the aforementioned Curse Of The Were-Rabbit with takings of $192 million) speaks volumes about the movie's originality, feel-good factor and overall quality.
Should I watch it?
Chicken Run is a fantastically entertaining and inventive film that pokes gentle fun at the war movies of yore. With Aardman's typically brilliant animation coupled with a talented cast, the film remains Aardman's best picture so far despite no sign of their legendary Wallace or Gromit anywhere to be found. Although the animation might appear rougher compared to its contemporaries, I'd be happy to sit back down and watch this all over again.
Great For: family viewing, fans of chickens, fans of Wallace and Gromit or Shaun The Sheep
Not So Great For: anyone who hasn't figured out where chicken pies come from, farmers in Yorkshire
What else should I watch?
Aardman Animation was founded back in 1972 and after a number of TV segments produced Morph, their first widely recognised character. After winning the first of their many Academy Awards with the short film Creature Comforts in 1990, they unleashed their incredibly popular Wallace and Gromit short films onto a grateful public - A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave and A Matter Of Loaf And Death were all nominated for or won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. But the pair wouldn't appear on the big screen until 2005's The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit - which did win Best Animated Feature Film.
Sadly, not all of Aardman's endeavours have been as successful. Despite a positive critical response, Flushed Away underperformed at the box office while the festive-themed Arthur Christmas didn't fare much better. It would appear as though Aardman are content these days to revive their successful back catalogue with Shaun The Sheep (himself a spin-off from A Close Shave) becoming the star of his own TV series and two stand-alone films. Personally, I'm looking forward to Chicken Run 2...
© 2020 Benjamin Cox