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  Chicken Run Fowl Play
Year: 2000
Director: Peter Lord, Nick Park
Stars: Phil Daniels, Lynn Ferguson, Mel Gibson, Tony Haygarth, Jane Horrocks, Miranda Richardson, Julia Sawalha, Timothy Spall, Imelda Staunton, Benjamin Whitrow
Genre: Comedy, AnimatedBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 3 votes)
Review: Ginger (voiced by Julia Sawalha) is a chicken with a plan. Quite a few plans, actually, as she wants to escape the prison of the chicken farm she lives on, but all her schemes go awry as tonight, when she digs under the fence enclosing her and her fellow poultry, but finds her friends cannot follow because Bunty (Imelda Staunton) is so fat she gets stuck. Farmer Tweedy (Tony Haygarth) and his guard dogs are there to catch her, and as he does often throws Ginger into solitary confinement in the coal bunker. But she will not be kept down, and her drive to get away becomes all the more pressing when Mrs Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) has a scheme of her own...

Chicken Run was the first feature length animation from Aardman studios, the people who had brought the world Morph and Wallace and Gromit, but although many expected them to dive straight in with the Wallace and Gromit film, their creator Nick Park, co-directing with Peter Lord, defied them and made what was essentially The Great Escape with chickens. It was very well recieved at the time as audiences concentrated on the gags, and there were plenty of them, yet some noted a grim quality to the story which after all features the most sympathetic characters under threat from death, as Mrs Tweedy is tired of egg production and is deciding to branch out into chicken pies.

It is this which makes the film resemble two other classic examples of British animation, the fifties adaptation of Animal Farm and Watership Down from the seventies, both of which anthropomorphise animals and have them struggle with their mortality. Both are even set in the countryside that Chicken Run is, and the period it takes place in - the late fifties - appears to hark back to a sense of nostalgia that might not be too valid, at least in this movie's view, as the era of post-war grey in Britain informs its appearance; this could have easily been in black and white and nobody would have noticed much difference in tone as while there are plenty of wacky moments the sense of austerity, never mind encroaching doom, is palpable.

So did Chicken Run aim to do for chicken what Babe did for ham? Maybe there was not any more to it than making those prisoner of war analogies, but after all life was no picnic for P.O.W.s any more than it is for Ginger and her pals. However, a ray of sunshine appears as she is out feeling that the worst is about to happen when a rooster flies overhead and salutes her. Understandably shocked, Ginger goes to investigate where he has landed, inside the enclosure as it turns out, but he has sprained his wing. He is Rocky (Mel Gibson) and is from the circus, but Ginger believes he can fly and can teach the chickens how to do the same, even though everyone knows chickens cannot take to the air and soar they way she saw Rocky doing.

We can tell Rocky is bluffing, but Ginger and her companions have faith in him however misplaced it may be, except as with many of these stories we know he will redeem himself by the end. Before that happens, there is an abundance of montages all the better to pack in the jokes, and there are a good many laugh out loud moments, yet that feeling of depressed circumstances means Chicken Run never, er, takes off as a jolly romp no matter how many references to Star Trek, The Italian Job or Indiana Jones the scriptwriters include. That's not to say the final sequence is not uplifting, because it is, and Lord and Park work up a decent amount of thrills that belie the painstaking and time-consuming nature of their chosen medium, but this never glitters and sparkles quite the way you might expect it to. Though for an example of British eccentricity given a Hollywood budget, it is admirable. Music by Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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