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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 Steve Rhodes
4 stars out of 4

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 with DINOSAURS.

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 flying shape.

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 followers.

CHICKEN RUN runs a fast 1:23. It is rated G and would be great for all ages.

Copyright İ 2000 Steve Rhodes

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