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Chicken Run

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Chicken Run

Starring: Mel Gibson, Miranda Richardson
Director: Nick Park
Rated: G
RunTime: 85 Minutes
Release Date: June 2000
Genres: Animation, Family, Kids

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Everyone except poultry farmers and airline companies should rejoice at the creation of this wonderful Claymation movie, one featuring chickens who act more human than we do and a pair of farmers who behave more like vultures and jackals than sensitive homo sapiens. Chicken farmers of the world have nothing to celebrate, which becomes obvious in the very first suspense-filled moments of the action since, after all, we're obliged to sympathize with victims of oppression and not their jailers. As for airline companies, credit Karey Kirkpatrick's hatchet-sharp writing that makes "Chicken Run" perhaps even more appealing to adults than to the more-visual-than-literary young 'uns who have towed them into the theaters. In one of the film's sharpest lines, a high-fashion mouse positions himself at the front of a makeshift aircraft and instructs the fowl who are about to take off to freedom, "In the event of an emergency, put your head between your legs...and kiss your butt goodbye." This may not be an original gag--it was in fact created by a realistic cynic during the atomic age to spoof the belief that we could protect ourselves by hiding under our desks. But never before was the quip so neatly placed within the context of a story.

In one dramatic scene, Mr. Tweedy (Tony Haygarth), the, uh, henpecked husband of farm proprietor Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson), cries out, "The chickens are revolting!" to which the Mrs. retorts, "For once we agree." This is but one example of the wordplay that makes the story a delight for adults, a story filled with puns, with metaphoric expressions made literal ("Hey, this is chicken-feed," says a mouse upon receiving insufficient payment for a job he is about to perform), and with jazzy lines. A World War II chicken-mascot-veteran, like others of his flock, becomes human in the way he lives for the memories of his medal- filled battle experiences and lectures the younger members of the farm on how easy they have things today despite their position in a prison camp.

Though the most obvious take-off is of "Stalag 17," with one of the huts featuring the number 17 and with the jailbirds surprisingly content in their captivity, the 1950's British setting of the project may remind you of George Orwell's "Animal Farm." (That's the book all high-school kids choose to read for their required reports because it's regularly the thinnest text on the list.) While "Chicken Run" does not really have an Orwellian political agenda--its directors, Peter Lord and Nick Park insisting that they are not vegetarians--the film's chicks are so human that scholars with time on their hands are bound to make postmodern and Marxist, even feminist interpretations of the agenda.

The farm in question exists for the production of eggs. When the quota is not met, Mrs. Tweedy enjoys the lazy bird for dinner. (A critique of capitalism?) Early on, one hapless hen is indeed sent to the execution chamber, its carcass showing up on the Tweedy table hours later. This act motivates the animals to escape a situation that looks insurmountable. The fences are high and vicious dogs patrol regularly. When Rocky the Flying Rooster (Mel Gibson) glides into the compound explaining that he is himself an escapee from the circus, he is enjoined by the honcho hen, Ginger (Julia Sawalha), to teach the company how to fly. The motivation becomes stronger when Mrs. Tweedy purchases a chicken-pie making machine, intending to execute her entire barnyard at once to make quick profits. (Another critique of capitalism?)

"Chicken Farm" stops for air quite a few times during its brief 85 minutes, allowing the audience to soak in the hip patter, taking a chance that the kids may fidget during these absolutely non-MTV moments. But Lord and Park, aiming to keep the adults as enthralled as the children, does right in allowing Karey Kirkpatrick's words to punch in, while in the best action scene, the directors put the chicks through their paces inside the huge, Chaplin-esque pot-pie machine. As two potential victims duck the sharp blades and parry with the grinding wheels as though in a Claymation version of "Modern Times," the audience gets a good look at the second industrial revolution writ small--what the world was like before high-tech dissolved much of the need for manual labor and heavy machinery in the highly developed parts of the world.

The assorted accents are an added plus, particularly the combination of Cockney, Scottish, and American English all competing for attention as the rulers of the roost and their frightened followers make their dramatic bid for deliverance. Prison is no fun, but hey, don't look at me: I get eggs only from free-range chickens.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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