Wednesday 26 December 2018

Movie Review: Chicken Run (2000)

A stop-motion animated comedy thriller, Chicken Run delivers warm laughs and self-effacing action.

In rural England, Ginger (voice of Julia Sawalha) is a smarter-than-most hen always hatching plans for a group escape from the chicken farm of the ruthless Melisha Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) and her hapless husband Willard (Tony Haygarth), where chickens are summarily killed as soon as they stop laying eggs. All of Ginger's escape plots fail and she spends plenty of time in solitary confinement dumped into a bin.

The other chickens on the farm include the dim-witted and constantly knitting Babs (Jane Horrocks), the elderly Fowler (Benjamin Whitrow), who cannot stop talking about his days in military service, and champion egg-layer Bunty (Imelda Staunton). Nick and Fetcher (Timothy Spall and Phil Daniels) are two scavenger rats who steal supplies to support Ginger's escape plans.

The fate of the chickens appears sealed when the Tweedys decide to convert their egg farm into a mass production chicken pie factory. But one day the cocky and laid-back American chicken Rocky Rhodes (Mel Gibson), a circus act escapee, lands at the farm, giving Ginger hope that he can teach all the chickens to fly in preparation for a mass escape.

Directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park, the duo behind Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run is 80 minutes in the life of enterprising chickens on the farm, drawing inspiration from The Great Escape to deliver cheeky humour and unlikely thrills. With a good balance of smart, stodgy, charming, doltish and evil characters, the film carries plenty of appeal for younger audiences, peppered with enough wit to satisfy adults.

The film offers simplified lessons in leadership, honesty, teamwork and perseverance, with side-orders of friendship, loyalty and rising to the challenge. Even a pecking romance eventually blossoms amidst the desperate attempts to find an escape plan that actually works.

The stop-animation artwork is conceived with painstaking care, the seamless camerawork creating a fluid and enjoyable cinematic experience. The chickens are provided with hands, teeth and sympathetic eyes to make them accessible. Most of the action takes place within the chicken coops, with one memorable excursion into the fiendishly productive pie-making machine.

The voice acting is full-bodied, Julia Sawalha a stand-out in providing Ginger with an iron will to escape and a yearning to experience freedom outside the farm fence. Jane Horrocks contributes plenty of laughs as the clueless Babs, and Benjamin Whitrow nails the insufferable old fart Fowler. Mel Gibson is less engaged as Rocky.

Full of madcap energy, Chicken Run is an unwavering commitment to fly the coop.

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