Every once in a while filmmakers make major breakthroughs. In 1995 with
TOY STORY, Pixar showed us what is possible when stellar computer
animation is combined with an equally bright script. This year it's
DreamWorks' turn as they take clay animation to heights that you would
never think possible and come up with a screenplay that's truly worthy
of the visuals -- something that Disney failed miserably on recently
In CHICKEN RUN, a chicken-coop-as-concentration-camp tale, DreamWorks
takes the animation crown from Pixar. They've raised the stakes. It's
time for Pixar to come up with something as innovative as CHICKEN RUN to
regain the title. For now, DreamWorks rules, and CHICKEN RUN is king.
In the "Hogan's Heroes" world of the Tweedy Egg Farm, every day is a
good day to try to make the big escape. And each episode has the birds
failing spectacularly and humorously. Led by the inexorable Ginger
(Julia Sawalha), who keeps getting thrown into solitary confinement (the
trash bin), the chickens boldly embark on one foolhardy mission after
another. They live in a produce-or-perish world. If any come up a few
eggs short, Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) shows up with an axe and
leads them away. The silliest of the chickens assume that the missing
ones have gone on vacation. (Actually the script should have said "on
holiday" since all of the characters, save one, are British.)
The movie, which is worth many viewings, takes great care with all of
the details. The lighting varies from an ominously dark nighttime, when
the escapes are planned, to bright sunshine when the animals try to get
in shape -- more on that later.
The modeling of every character is a complete delight. My favorites are
the beady eyes, but the large, expressive mouths with the big, clunky
teeth would be a close second. But then again, their plump torsos are
pretty funny too.
One day to this land of brave losers comes possible salvation in the
form of an American, Rocky the Rooster (Mel Gibson). Rocky, who claims
to be known as the "Lone Range Rooster," is a braggart and a bit of a
scam artist. But since he flew into the chicken coop, the chickens
figure he can teach them to fly out. Leading them in hilarious daily
calisthenics, he tries, without noticeable success, to work them into
Among the many wonderful supporting characters is a feisty old codger
named Fowler (Benjamin Whitrow). Fowler, a veteran of the RAF, is a
rooster who likes to begin his thoughts with "Back in my day, ..." He
doesn't think much of Rocky, remarking, "Pushy Americans, always showing
up late for every war."
Their daily routine of escape and capture comes to a halt when Mrs.
Tweedy discovers a pamphlet in her mail entitled "Sick and Tired of
Making Miniscule Profits?" This causes her to import a diabolical
machine, which forces the chickens to escalate their training. "Pain is
your friend," Rocky tells his plump pupils as they almost faint from
exhaustion. "It's a positive thing." Eventually, the barnyard
dissolves into some of the funniest gallows humor in years.
This rousing good tale is up-beat but never saccharine. With enough
poignant moments to make the humor work even better and to endear the
characters to us, the movie is a completely satisfying and magical
experience for young and old. Directors Peter Lord and Nick Park, who
also provided the story, and writers Karey Kirkpatrick and Jack
Rosenthal clearly have poured their hearts and souls into the movie's
production with magnificent results.
The story is at its best when poking fun at the chicken's foolish
bravado. "We'll die freeing chickens, or we'll die trying!" Ginger
boldly proclaims. "Are these the only choices?" asks one of her timid
CHICKEN RUN runs a fast 1:23. It is rated G and would be great for
Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes