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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 John Beachem
3½ stars out of 4

The chickens of Tweedy's farm are plotting an escape. They're tired of lives filled with nothing but laying as many eggs as possible or being sent to the chopping block. One courageous chicken, Ginger (Julia Sawalha), leads the group against the evil Mrs. Tweedy (The excellent Miranda Richardson) and the clueless Mr. Tweedy (Tony Haygarth). What Ginger lacks in brilliant escape plans she makes up for in sheer determination. Unfortunately, Mrs. Tweedy has grown tired of the low income from selling eggs and has bought a massive pie making machine ("look at the size of that thing!" one character says in a nice little "Star Wars" homage). As Mrs. Tweedy says, "Chickens go in, pies come out." The chickens grow more and more desperate to escape, but all their plans seem to lead to Ginger being tossed in "the hole". Things are looking bleak until Rocky, the flying rooster (Mel Gibson), shows up. Ginger offers him sanctuary in return for him teaching all the chickens how to fly, so they can escape over the fence to freedom. Of course the one major problem with this plan is that chickens (and roosters) can't fly. This doesn't stop the group from trying, and what follows is a great claymation chicken version of "The Great Escape" (how's that for different?).

Okay, I know what everyone's thinking - how good can a goofy looking movie about claymation chickens possibly be? That's exactly what I was thinking walking into the theater. To say I was shocked by how much I enjoyed "Chicken Run" would be an understatement. I was completely bowled over by how much I loved this movie - with everything from the eccentric characters to the great soundtrack and voice-overs. The one and only complaint I had, and the only thing that kept the film from a full five star rating, was that Lord and Park (of "Wallace and Gromit" fame) allow the film to get a bit too cutesy at times. However, this is a minor complaint about an otherwise great movie. "Chicken Run" is the kind of movie Disney used to be able to make: a film with a perfect blend of childish humor and subtle jokes for the adults. These days Disney grants us movies like "Dinosaur" which look amazing but are aimed entirely at little ones. "Chicken Run" may not look amazing, since we've all seen claymation a thousand times over, but it's far more endearing than "Dinosaur" could ever have hoped to be.

The movie's strongest point is the host of delightfully bizarre characters (this was the strong point in "The Big Lebowski" too, and look what a great movie that was). Rocky could have been your typical heroic seeming phony, but those characters are usually all show on the outside and nothing on the inside. Rocky, on the other hand, is very little on the outside (he still acts like a chicken) and a lot on the inside. Gibson's voice-over is pleasant, but he doesn't add as much to his character as the English actors do to theirs. Julia Sawalha turns Ginger into a hilariously manic character, who always has a smile plastered to her face (actually, most of the chickens are always smiling) and spouts lines like, "We'll die free chickens, or we'll die trying!" The real standout performances (so to speak) come from two of the supporting cast members: Miranda Richardson ("Sleepy Hollow") as the evil Mrs. Tweedy, and Jane Horrocks ("Memphis Belle") as the hysterical chicken, Babs. Miranda Richardson, who I've always found to be a wonderful actress since I first saw her as Queen Elizabeth in the "Blackadder" British comedy series, isn't used as much as I would have liked in "Chicken Run", but she's delightful when present. Jane Horrocks' character, the overweight, flighty (pardon the pun), slightly neurotic Babs is uproariously funny. She has a grin constantly plastered to her face and a sewing kit stuck in her hands. She also gets some of the film's best lines like: "Me life flashed before me eyes... that was really boring."

I think one of the things I found so endearing about "Chicken Run" was that the characters may have acted like typical heroes at times, but they were still chickens at heart. Rocky may be all bravado in front of the chickens, but whenever a human comes close to him he starts screaming for Ginger to hide him. Another great scene like this is where one of the lead chickens tries to give her flock courage by saying, "The important thing is not to panic." The chickens immediately react by screeching and running around in circles. The film's other high points include a great, if slightly underused soundtrack; some delightfully over-the-top action sequences (watch for Ginger and Rocky's run in with the pie making machine); and more movie references than I could count ("Star Wars", "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "The Great Escape" just to name a few). To top all this off, the movie runs only 84 minutes in a time when movies running less than 120 are becoming scarce. I'd recommend "Chicken Run" to anyone who likes slightly childish comedies and give it a well earned four and a half out of five stars.

Copyright 2000 John Beachem

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