By David Kenney
After years of laying small golden eggs, claymation connoisseurs Aardman have finally hatched the big one–and it’s no goose egg. Chicken Run, the first full-length animated feature from the Wallace and Gromit team, is one hilarious hen-house send-up.
Set in Bristol, England, the claymation film features a prison-like chicken farm complete with the warden-like Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson). Stiff looking and wide-eyed, Mrs. Tweedy bosses her coward husband Mr. Tweedy, (Tony Haygarth) into making her a chicken-pie machine. See, egg profits are meagre and Mrs. Tweedy has dreams of life beyond feathers and chicken droppings.
The mean farmer’s wife has opposition though. Ginger (Julia Sawalha), a sassy and smart chick, looks from her hen-house rooftop and sees green grass and freedom. But flying the coop is harder than it sounds. Organizing a bunch of half-wit clucks proves difficult and most break-out attempts are foiled.
Just before all hope is lost, circus castaway Rocky the Flying Rooster (Mel Gibson) lands in the coop. Bedazzled by his aerial abilities, the whole coop flocks to the American cock as their ticket out of an egg-laying life. Naturally, hilarity ensues with scenes of chickens doing aerobics and Mr. Tweedy remarking, "Them chickens are getting organized" to his ignorant wife.
Though Mrs. Tweedy may be oblivious, Chicken Run is not. Following the premise of a light-hearted escape story with many cartoon clichés, the British cartoon has broad appeal. Think 101 Dalmatians meets light Coronation Street humour. Here, polite pokes at U.S. nationalism are made with nudge, nudge, wink, wink results. Straying from ’90s cartoon melodrama, Chicken Run delivers a fast-paced story full of good characters, great one-liners and a solid script. Overall, it’s the best farm farce since Babe.
Then there’s the amazing claymation. Many jaws will drop at the speed with which characters interact. Especially enjoyable is the dance scene where the chickens flip, flop and fly all over the screen. Such timing with clay creatures must have taken hours to plan and in the end is worth a movie-goers’ time.
Aardman’s past efforts with Wallace and Gromit and Creature Comforts earned the revolutionary animation crew Oscars. With Chicken Run, the team takes the leap from short film legendry to feature film mastery. In short, it’ll make you feel like chicken tonight.